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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Parlimentary action needed on lying aviation adverts (Email to David Drew MP)

Dear David,

Good to meet up again this morning.

As discussed, I am now getting no response from the Advertising Standards Agency following my complaints against the misleading adverts of the aviation industry. All the adverts that I have complained about erroneously claim that flying can be made environmentally friendly. Claims of this nature are becoming increasingly common.

I have pointed out to the ASA that the marketing strategy of the aviation industry is the same as that employed by the cigarette industry in the late 1940s when they claimed smoking filtered cigarettes was safe. We know that it is preposterous to think cigarettes can be safe, in the same way that we know aviations claim of environmentally friendly flying is also preposterous. However, we also know that the cigarette advertising strategy was overwhelmingly successful, making Marlboro the most highly valued brand in history. By employing the same methods, the aviation industry is being equally successful in getting people to ignore the clear and present dangers of climate change and to continue flying regardless.

As I am unable to make any further progress with the ASA in having adverts that are making deliberately misleading environmental claims banned, I would therefore ask that you raise this critical issue in parliament with other like-minded MPs.

I would further appreciate that you question in parliament the merit of having a self-regulating body policing the critical issue of advertisers consistently flouting the science on climate change. Page 3 of ASA code of practise states, “The Committee of Advertising Practice members include organisations that represent the advertising, sales promotion, direct marketing and media businesses.” The lack of action on the aviation adverts demonstrates a clear and dangerous conflict of interest as advertising for business expansion is given preference over truthful statements on climate change impacts.

The adverts that I have recently complained about and the ASA responses that I have received follow below. In each case the advert is in clear breach of sections 49.1 and 49.2 of ASA code of conduct.  

  • Finnair claimed on London Underground bill boards that flying with them is “Eco-smart.” I complained, but did not even receive an acknowledgement.
  • Airbus  claimed in a National Geographic advert they “see the bigger picture, and work to minimize environmental impact by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”  This is unequivocal rubbish. Airbus will never work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and every efficiency improvement the aviation industry has introduced since the Wright brothers has never reduced CO2 emissions. Despite this plain logic, the ASA rejected my complaint. I then had the matter referred to the Independent Reviewer of ASA Adjudications. However he backed the council’s initial decision, which raises serious questions about his independence. Amongst the bizarre justifications he made was National Geographic readers would understand it to be false, irrespective of the advert being targeted towards children. Again, targeting adverts at children is a case of the aviation industry borrowing another tactic from the cigarette industry. It is outrageous that the ASA are still allowing this tactic.

  • Easyjet claimed that we should demand a “more intelligent approach to aviation,” with the suggestion that flying EasyJet was environmentally intelligent. Easyjet’s advert also suggested that we pressurise airlines to fly the most fuel-efficient planes. My complaint to the ASA was again rejected, despite having no response from my letter to Easyjet suggesting that they change their fleet to fuel-efficient turboprops.

I have complained about three other adverts were aviation companies made erroneous claims about being environmentally friendly. In each case the ASA has upheld the advert and rejected my complaint.

In light of the events at Copenhagen this week, it is vital as a society we demand major companies and CO2 emitters are truthful with their adverts and are not allowed to maximise profits by subverting the science.

Regards and best wishes,
Kevin Lister
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