Subvertising campaign targets advertising industry’s role in climate breakdown

More than 200 bus stop spaces have been hijacked with spoof adverts in the UK, Paris and Belgium this weekend, as activists target the advertising industry over its role in propping up major polluters. The subvertising campaign, coordinated by anonymous artist collective Brandalism, was part of a wave of grassroots actions across Europe in protest against all fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships.

A new report by DeSmog has shown that two thirds of advertisements by big polluters are greenwash – which is causing dangerous inaction on climate as high carbon industries spend millions on greenwashing their public image rather than cutting emissions.

Greenwash is the second wave of climate denial in which polluters use false claims about carbon offsetting and ‘net zero’ to delay meaningful climate action. We want to bring the ad agencies who do this greenwashing back into the picture.

Tona Merriman, Brandalism

The spoof ads seen in Brighton, Bristol, Leeds, Glasgow, Reading and more this weekend include images of floods and fires alongside the familiar branding of big polluters including Shell, BP, easyJet and Jaguar Land Rover – and their advertising agencies. The artworks make the link between top agencies, including Ogilvy, MediaCom and VCCP, and their highly polluting clients, in the latest action to call long overdue attention to the advertising industry’s role in the climate crisis.

One subvert hacks easyJet’s ‘This is Generation easyJet’ advertising campaign created by ad agency VCCP. With the strapline “This is generation climate breakdown”, the spoof ad displays an invitation to purchase “Flooded landscapes for €14.99” across images of a flooded city.

Drawing parallels with the ban on advertising for tobacco companies, climate campaigners are calling for a ban on any advertising for fossil fuel companies or those dependent on fossil fuels, including airlines, airports and fossil-dependent cars, owing to the incontrovertible evidence of the harm caused by burning fossil fuels. In the EU, citizens are being encouraged to sign a European Citizens’ Initiative “Ban Fossil Fuel Advertising and Sponsorships” which launched in early October, just one month before the crucial UN climate conference in Glasgow, COP26.

Following the launch of the ECI, grassroots groups took part in four days of creative resistance against fossil fuel advertising, coordinated by groups including Adfree Cities and Badvertising in the UK, Liège Sans Pub in Belgium, Résistance À L’Agression Publicitaire in France and Reclame Fossielvrij (Fossil Free Advertising) in the Netherlands. As well as Brandalism’s subvertising campaign, the days of action included activists in Stockholm passing giant cigarettes stuffed with a new greenwash report to politicians, and advertisement cover ups in Bristol.

Tona Merriman from Brandalism said: 

“Greenwash is the second wave of climate denial in which polluters use false claims about carbon offsetting and ‘net zero’ to delay meaningful climate action. We want to bring the ad agencies who do this greenwashing back into the picture.

Even when they’re not actively deceiving the public, advertisers’ constant manufacturing of new desires for never-ending cycles of consumerism is trashing the planet. We need a paradigm shift.”

Greenwash advertising by companies including Land Rover and BP has been the subject of several recent legal complaints. In one case, BP’s ‘Keep Advancing’ campaign by Ogilvy, which had the strapline “We’re working to make energy cleaner” was released at a time when BP had 96% of its annual spend on oil and gas. UK anti-advertising group Badvertising has launched a complaint against Jaguar Land Rover over their misleading ‘Above and Beyond’ ad campaign, which seemed to place the company ‘beyond restrictions’ despite its intensively polluting activities.

Adfree Cities is calling on local councils to follow the example of Amsterdam and the Hague, who recently banned advertising and sponsorship for polluting cars, airlines and fossil fuel companies in their public transport spaces. In the UK, Liverpool, Norwich and North Somerset councils have all passed motions to implement similar measures.

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