Equinor ad ban reveals deliberate political targeting before Rosebank decision

In December 2023, Norwegian oil giant Equinor’s “Broader Energy” adverts were banned as officially “misleading” by the UK advertising regulator. As reported by the Financial Times, the ban reveals the deliberate political influence of fossil fuel advertising and greenwash, with devastating consequences for the climate.

Equinor’s ‘Broader Energy’ ads were banned for implying that wind farms, oil and gas, and carbon capture play a balanced role in Equinor’s energy mix, when in fact, as the ASA’s ruling states, “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“.

The 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 Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), 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.” 

Equinor

The “carbon bomb” Rosebank oil and gas field was given UK government approval in September 2023.

Broadcaster Chris Packham has called the Rosebank development, whose lifetime emissions are predicted to blow the UK’s carbon budget from its operations alone, an “act of war against life on Earth“.

act of war against life on Earth“.

Chris Packham
Equinor’s ‘Broader Energy’ adverts in Reuters, May 2023

Ad ban is too little, too late

Equinor have been given a slap on the wrist, but despite being found guilt of misleading advertising, there are no legal or financial consequences. The ASA’s ban on Equinor’s adverts was too late for the Rosebank decision; it is very likely Rosebank will be developed, having garnered political and public support using false messaging about its environmental credentials as well as false promises of job and energy security. 

The web of entanglement between political agendas and fossil fuel interests is captured in this advertising ruling, which follows a DeSmog investigation revealing that UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt met with Equinor to work on its messaging to build support for the Rosebank project.

At the time of the “Broader Energy” adverts, just 1.6% of Equinor’s annual expenditure was on environmentally sustainable activities (sustainable taxonomy-aligned CapEx).

0% of the firm’s revenue was from environmentally sustainable activities (source: Equinor’s Annual Report, 2022).

Take action

It could not be clearer that greenwash is out of control and that regulation alone cannot rein in advertising’s growing climate harms (read more in Badvertising’s Toothless? report). Adfree Cities and Badvertising are part of a growing international movement calling for a ban on fossil advertising.

You can take action by writing to your local councillor or MP to call for a ban on high-carbon advertising and sponsorship, to help meet climate goals and remove fossil fuel companies’ outsized political influence.

A full wraparound Equinor advert in the Financial Times, July 2023

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