advertisement for Act on CO2 Various broadcasters
October 2009, various dates and times
Ofcom received 537 complaints about a television advertisement for Act on CO2. The complainants raised objections that the advertising was of a ‘political’ nature.
The majority of the complaints were referred to Ofcom by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Political advertising is prohibited on television and radio under the terms of section 321 of the Communications Act 2003 and, for television, by Rule 4 of the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) Television Advertising Standards Code.
Act on CO2 is a joint initiative of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The scheme co-ordinates government efforts to reduce businesses’ and individuals’ carbon footprints, in other words to reduce the amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) produced through work and daily life.
The advertisement showed a father reading his young daughter a bedtime story from an illustrated children’s book. The audio was as follows: Father:
There was once a land where the weather was very, very strange. There were awful heatwaves in some parts, and in others terrible storms and floods. Scientists said it was being caused by too much CO2 which went up into the sky when the grown-ups used energy. They said the CO2 was getting dangerous; its effects were happening faster than they had thought. Some places could even disappear under the sea and it was the children of the land who’d have to live with the horrible consequences. The grown-ups realised they had to do something. They discovered that over 40% of the CO2 was coming from ordinary everyday things like keeping houses warm and driving cars, which meant if they made less CO2 maybe they could save the land for the children.
Child: Is there a happy ending?.
Voiceover: It’s up to us how the story ends. See what you can do. Search online for Act on CO2..
During the advertisement pictures from the storybook were shown, with simple animation, to illustrate the effects described: a rabbit weeping during a drought, a ‘sky monster’ representing accumulated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a flooded town with a dog disappearing beneath rising waters, a small girl turning off a light.
These images were intercut with close-ups of the daughter’s face as she listened to her father.
Complainants used various descriptions of the advertisement that related, to one degree or another, to its having a ‘political’ purpose. Typical phrases included: government propaganda, Orwellian, brain-washing, cynical political manipulation, alarmist propaganda, theocratic propaganda, political message targeted at minors, softening the public up for tax increases, one-sided political propaganda, social engineering, and indoctrination.
Ofcom Decison: Not in Breach
Ofcom considered that the advertisement differed from previous Act on CO2 campaigns which suggested specifically, for example, that viewers drive less, improve loft insulation, turn off lights and not leave electrical appliances on stand-by. In this case, the focus of the advertisement’s contents appeared to fall more on the wider context of why the audience should consider energy conservation to be important and relevant to them (It’s up to us how the story ends), as opposed to the provision of specific information about what actions viewers could take, or changes they could make to their behaviour in this regard.
Ofcom considered that the nature and extent of the information imparted by the advertisement itself was relatively limited – for example about actions viewers themselves could take or consider. It was Ofcom’s view that, for this reason, the advertisement came close to the limits of acceptability as an advertisement of a public service nature.
On balance, Ofcom decided that the inclusion of the image of the young girl turning off a light switch, and the message at the end of the advertisement providing viewers with a further source of information about specific actions they could take was adequate to merit the advertisement being classed as of a public service nature.
Ofcom concluded that the purpose of the advertisement was to raise viewers’ awareness of the issues of climate change, in the context of energy conservation and its relevance to viewers.
This was achieved by means of some information provided within the advertisement, in combination with specific information provided by the Act on CO2 website, to which the advertisement referred. The advertisement was therefore of a public service nature and, as such, it fell within the exception at section 321(7)(a) of the Act. Therefore, the advertisement was not in breach of the prohibition on political advertising.
Not in breach