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Greenwashing Sustainability ASA

BMW and MG ads banned over zero-emissions claims


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

February 7, 2024 | 4 min read

The UK ad regulator has issued a fresh warning to car manufacturers to clearly define what part of owning an electric vehicle makes them emissions-free.

A electric car being charged

Warning to electric and hybrid car advertisers / Pexels

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned ads from BMW and MG for misleading customers that their vehicles are emissions-free.

The case acknowledged that while electric cars are emissions-free when driven, there are emissions in the manufacturing process and in the charging process. Therefore, to adhere to advertising codes, BMW and MG should have specified that any zero-emissions claims only relate to when the car is being driven.

BMW’s Google ad read: “Zero Emissions Cars – Download Your Brochure Today. Visit BMW’s official online website. Find the perfect BMW electric car. Book a test drive. Explore a range of BMW electric cars.”

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BMW said in its defense that it had bid on the term ‘Zero Emission Cars’ to target consumers who were searching for electric cars. It claims that the term ‘Zero Emission Cars’ had been put automatically into the ad. It also said that the term only appeared in a small amount of search results, giving evidence to suggest it was just 0.02% of the ad impressions.

In response to the ad ban, BMW assured the ASA that it would stop using ‘Zero Emission Cars’ as a bid term on Google Ads.

MG’s ad, on the other hand, promoted a fully electric vehicle alongside a hybrid while being unclear about which car the zero-emissions claim was in relation to. The ASA said that the claim was made without providing enough information to the customer to understand which vehicle it referred to while adding that electric cars do emit greenhouse gases in other ways.

The case serves as a warning to car manufacturers who fail to clearly define what part of owning an electric vehicle makes them emissions-free. In relation to ads for hybrids, advertisers must be clear that emissions claims can only be made when driving using the battery power. Zero-emission claims should never be made in relation to vehicles that are powered by petrol or diesel engines.

The joint ad bans follow action this week from the climate campaign Badvertising, which took aim at SUV advertisers. The spoof public health message ads call for a tobacco-style ban on SUV adverts.

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