In December 2023, Norwegian oil giant Equinor's "Broader Energy" adverts were banned as "misleading" by the UK advertising regulator. This ruling reveals the political influence and devastating potential consequences of fossil fuel advertising.
The ads were banned for suggesting that wind farms, oil and gas, and carbon capture play a balanced role in Equinor's energy mix, when in fact "large-scale global oil and gas investment and extraction formed the vast majority of Equinor’s business activities and would continue to do so in the near future".
Equinor's ads were broadly placed to target a UK audience, including across Reuters, the FT and the Economist in May-July 2023, in the run up to a major UK government decision on the controversial Rosebank oil and gas field in the North Sea. Equinor are the majority (80%) owner of Rosebank.
In response to investigation by the UK advertising regulator, Equinor revealingly stated that their adverts were not aiming to sell a product, but to influence political decision makers:
[the ad] did not advertise any consumable product or service, and was not aimed at the general public, but at decision-makers and their influencers, a group that included politicians in government and opposition, as well as advisors and journalists.
This followed a DeSmog investigation which revealed that UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt met with Equinor to work on its messaging to build support for the Rosebank project.
The "carbon bomb" Rosebank oil and gas field was given UK government approval in September 2023.
Too little, too late
The ASA's ban on Equinor's adverts was too late for the Rosebank decision. Equinor have been given a slap on the wrist and told not to make similarly misleading green claims in future advertising - but there is no legal or financial consequence. It is very likely they will develop Rosebank, which is predicted to blow the UK's carbon budget.
It could not be clearer that advertising regulation cannot rein in advertising's growing climate harms (read more in Badvertising's Toothless? report).