Wunderman Thompson’s UK offices have been picketed by demonstrators from a range of environmental and other activist groups after an ad campaign the agency produced for Shell was banned in the UK.
Shell’s “Powering Progress” campaign produced by Wunderman Thompson was banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for misleading consumers.
The ads said that 1.4 million homes in the UK used “100 per cent” renewable electricity from Shell, that the company was fitting 50,000 electric vehicle chargers nationwide by 2025 and working on wind power for a further six million homes. However, the ASA said that this gave the impression that low-carbon energy products made up a “significant proportion of the energy products Shell invested in and sold in the UK in 2022, or were likely to do so in the near future.”
As a result, the watchdog found that the ads misled consumers.
Shell, meanwhile, called the decision “shortsighted” and that consumers were “already well aware that Shell produces the oil and gas they depend on today. When customers fill up at our petrol stations across the UK, it’s under the instantly recognisable Shell logo.”
Following the ban, protestors from activist groups Adfree Cities, Glimpse, Greenpeace, Fossil Free London, Brandalism and Extinction Rebellion picketed Wunderman Thompson’s offices in North London.
“We’re telling Wunderman Thompson to drop the brief,” said on Adfree Cities protestor on Twitter.
“Stop representing Shell, stop representing major polluters.”
We’re outside the offices of ad agency @Wunthompsonuk today to present them with a “best in greenwash” award!
— Adfree Cities (@adfreecities) June 8, 2023
The protesters also handed out awards for “Best in Greenwashing” to Wunderman employees to “congratulate” the agency for its work.
“We’re here today because advertising fossil fuels is toxic and wrong. It’s increasingly a source of reputational, legal and regulatory risk. We think it has to end,” Adfree Cities’ Veronica Wignall told Campaign.
“Yesterday, Wunderman Thompson was called out by the ASA for adverts that talked up all of Shell’s lower carbon initiatives, while failing to mention that they’re vastly still invested in fossil fuels. More than 90 per cent of their business is still in fossil fuels. They’re not winding down.”
Andrew Simm’s from anti-advertising group Brandalism added:
“We have a major problem in that some of the most polluting companies in the world are trying to pass themselves off as green. They’re trying to create the impression that they’re acting on the immediate challenge of the climate emergency. And that matters enormously.
“It’s like, your house is on fire, and somebody is telling you that they’re putting it out. But they’re actually pouring more fuel on the flames.”
Shell’s global media account is also up for pitch at the moment. WPP’s EssenceMediacom has held the account since 2005 and it is understood that a number of agencies have been invited to pitch. However, according to Adweek, agencies are unwilling to confirm whether they are pitching for the lucrative account.
Protesters from Extinction Rebellion gathered outside the EssenceMediacom in Central London and urged the agency not to repitch for the account.
“We understand that an agency has already refused to pitch for the Shell account on the grounds that it doesn’t fit with their values and commitments to Net Zero,” Ian McDermott, one of the protesters told Campaign.
McDermott added that agencies should take a “principled and brave stand” against working with Shell and stop “forcing their creatives to be complicit in the accelerating climate emergency.”
EssenceMediacom said that the protest was “very peaceful” but declined to comment further. Shell made no comment on the protests.
Closer to home, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has started cracking down on perceived greenwashing in advertising. The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) has also brought forward its review of the environmental claims code.