Graphic image shows the Adfree Cities logo surrounded by images of activities.

Let’s make 2024 an ad-free year!

As another year draws to a close (no, we can’t believe it’s already December either!) we’re taking time to reflect on all that our network has achieved in 2023.

From Adblock groups to ad bans, Green Party motions to the Hell Bus tour, 2023 really has been an experience and we’ve collected some of our highlights for you below. If you have a highlight you’d like to share, email us at hello@adfreecities.org.uk or connect with us on social media.

Whether you’re a veteran Adfree supporter or this is your first email from us, we are truly grateful for your support and can’t wait to work together to make 2024 an ad-free year. Merry Christmas and a happy new year from the Adfree Cities team – Charlotte, James, John, Nicola, Robbie and Veronica.

Across the network

Adblock groups across the country have been busy throughout the year working to stem the tide of advertising flooding our streets.

A massive welcome to the latest local group – Adblock Manchester. Formed off the back of the epic Hell Bus tour (more on that later) Adblock Manchester wasted no time in getting stuck in with a petition to stop a new digital billboard in Chadderton. We can’t wait to see what they get up to next.

In May, Adblock Cardiff scored a major win when they successfully lobbied the city council to include ethical advertising policies in the upcoming revised Advertising & Sponsorship policy, due to begin in 2025. Adblock Cardiff’s additions to the policy include a prohibition on ads for junk food, gambling, high carbon products and payday loans.

Adblock Bristol enjoyed a win when it was announced that Bristol City Council’s Local Plan will include stronger provisions against new advertisements being installed. For instance, they will consider the medium- and long-distance views of the advertisement, and whether it would result in “a negative impact upon residents’ living conditions by reason of its siting or illumination.”

Adfree Cities’ work in 2023

Three people stand in front of a yellow bus that says "Hell"

As ever it’s been a whirlwind year for us in our little studio in Bristol.

Big thanks to Pete Brooks, our public space researcher who spent the year sifting through databases and grappling with mapping software to produce Adfree Cities’ major upcoming report, “Unavoidable Impact: Investigating the relationship of outdoor advertising locations to health and wealth“. The report won’t be launched in time for Christmas, but will make a lovely Easter present.

A highlight of the year has to be the fantastic Hell Bus tour, in which Adfree Cities teamed up with artist extraordinaire Darren Cullen and the wonderful folks at Switch It Green to bring a satirical critique of Big Oil advertising to towns and cities across the UK.

Following hot on the heels of the Hell Bus came Adfree Cities’ guide to misleading meat, dairy and egg advertisingThe cows aren’t laughing – a call to everyone who cares about a more sustainable, kinder food system: let’s challenge misinformation and end advertising for factory-farmed food. Read the report and watch our video here.

We ended the year with The ZAP Games, two weeks of hectic, fun-filled, family-friendly reactions to Black Friday consumerism. ZAP brought together campaigners across the UK and Europe to creatively challenge outdoor advertising and showcase alternatives. Check out some of the best photos from the Games here.

A billboard painted over with the word "ZAP"

Big wins against misleading ads

11 people outside a building with "Havas" above the door. They hold a large banner reading "Stop Greenwash Lies"

Adfree Cities maintains a watching brief on all kinds of ads and challenges those we think are in breach of UK advertising standards. In 2023, we’ve had some high-profile wins against misleading greenwash advertising

Shell: In June the ad regulator the ASA banned a series of adverts for Shell that centred on the oil major’s investments in renewables whilst neglecting to mention their rather considerable investments in oil and gas.

We had coverage in The GuardianFT and The Times.

Repsol: We had a similar win against Spanish oil company Repsol for adverts promoting “biofuels”, and then a second win a few months later when their ads promoted “renewable hydrogen fuel” despite these making up just 0.4% of the company’s investments.

Toyota: In November we were thrilled when the ASA agreed with us that a series of ads for the Toyota Hilux SUV were socially irresponsible for their depiction of off-road driving. The ruling was the first time SUV ads have been banned in the UK for this reason.

We achieved press coverage in The GuardianIndependent and Sky News.

Elf Bar: A final win for 2023 came with a ruling against ads for vaping company Elf Bar that promoted the supposed ‘green’ credentials of the company. Disposable vapes are a major source of plastic pollution and recycling rates are extremely low due to the difficulties of the recycling process.

This ruling was covered in The GuardianBusiness Green and Sky News.

From friends across the UK

A large, spherical building illuminated to look like an eyeball.

Our friends and partners have had a brilliant year, too, and some fantastic wins which deserve to be celebrated.

Campaigners in Frome saw off the threat of a new digital billboard directly opposite a row of houses. This is a great example of local people working together and alongside local councillors to achieve positive change.

The tireless work of campaigners at Stop MSG Sphere mobilised public support against the vulgar monument to corporate arrogance that is the MSG Sphere, a 90-metre high orb of digital advertising screens proposed to be built in Stratford, London. The Stop MSG Sphere campaign gathered objections and successfully convinced Sadiq Khan to block the proposal. Unfortunately, the government has now stepped in and could potentially overturn Khan’s decision. Fingers crossed that local people’s views are respected.

Finally, thanks to Caroline Lucas and the Green Party of England and Wales. At Green Party Conference in October, a motion was passed to adopt a high carbon ad ban. Later, Caroline Lucas spoke in Parliament in support of amendments to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill that would tighten ad regulation in line with net zero targets.

Looking ahead to 2024, we’ll be…

🌳 launching new research to help policymakers make the link between outdoor advertising and inequalities in health and wealth.

🌴supporting citizens and councils around the UK to take action against outdoor advertising.

🌱keeping the heat on deceptive adverts and the agencies who make them.

☘️looking ahead to an even bigger, bolder ZAP Games 2024.

🎋And our Adblocking groups around the UK will be stepping up the fight for ad-free public spaces

There’s so much to get stuck in to – we can’t wait! Don’t forget to stay in touch via social media and email. And if there’s someone special in your life who you think would enjoy our work, share this newsletter with them so they can join the fun.  

See you in 2024!

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