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A UK-wide ‘subvertising’ campaign is targeting leading advertising agencies including Ogilvy, MediaCom and VCCP over their role in facilitating the climate crisis. 

Over 100 billboard and bus stop posters were installed over the weekend, without permission, in 20 towns and cities – linking the advertising agencies with their high-carbon clients such as Shell, BP, Jaguar Land Rover and British Airways. 

The campaign forms part of four days of action taking place across Europe in protest against the advertising industry and its sponsorship for high-carbon products and misleading ‘greenwashing’ on behalf of fossil fuel companies. 

The billboards were installed by the anonymous Brandalism network, which has joined forces with a group of anti-advertising and climate organizations across Europe including Adfree Cities and Badvertising in the UK. Last week Badvertising released its debut campaign for the Ministry for the Climate Emergency, which dubbed the ad industry as ‘brain pollution’ and called for more legislation around high-carbon advertising.

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Brandalism has also previously spoken out against the likes of Barclays for its financing of the fossil fuel industry, asserting that the ad agencies working alongside polluting clients are complicit in the destruction of the environment. 

The overriding European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Ban Fossil Fuel Advertising and Sponsorships’ was launched last week, just one month before the crucial UN climate conference Cop26 in Glasgow. 

Collectively, the groups are calling on local councils to follow the example in Amsterdam of banning advertising and sponsorship for polluting cars, airlines and fossil fuel companies. In the UK, Liverpool, Norwich and North Somerset councils have all passed motions to implement similar measures.

The proposed ban would prohibit any advertisement or sponsorship in the EU by companies selling fossil fuels, vehicles running on fossil fuels, and flights or ferries that run on fossil fuels.

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Robbie Gillett from Adfree Cities said: “For too long, the advertising industry has escaped scrutiny for its role in the climate crisis. Whether it’s using the best creative talent to promote high-carbon products, providing misleading greenwash for big oil companies or filling our public spaces with energy-intensive ad screens, the juggernaut of polluting PR needs to end.”

The ad industry at large is seeing increased legislation when it comes to issues over sustainability. In the last month, both the CMA and ASA have released new guidance in the UK around brands not living up to their environmental pledges.

Meanwhile, Google has announced that it will ban the display of ads on YouTube videos and other content that spreads false claims about climate change as part of ongoing efforts to maintain brand safety. However, it remains to be seen whether more radical legislation will be brought in following Cop26.