Shell loyalty scheme ad deemed misleading

Energy company Shell has been issued with a warning by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about broadcasting misleading ads.

A radio advert heard in January 2020 relating to the Shell Go+ loyalty scheme must not appear again in the same form, and Shell UK was told it must make it clear claims of carbon offsetting were contingent on membership of a loyalty scheme. Some 17 complainants challenged the ad commentary, “Drive carbon-neutral by filling up and using Shell Go+ today. Make the change. Drive carbon-neutral”.

Shell Go+ is a loyalty scheme to which consumers are required to sign-up and then show their membership card when they make a purchase. In those circumstances the carbon emissions related to that fuel purchase are offset by Shell, but the ASA said there was nothing in the ad suggesting the commentary was related to a loyalty scheme.

In that context, the ad authority considered listeners were likely to infer Shell Go+ was a fuel for which Shell would offset the carbon emissions related to that fuel purchase.

Shell said it did not believe that consumers could be confused into thinking Shell Go+ was a new carbon-neutral fuel, and claimed the ad made a clear distinction between the fuel and the loyalty scheme by using the line “drive carbon neutral by filling up and using Shell Go+ today”.

It said the ad also directed consumers to Shell’s website for more details, which it argued was appropriate to do given the complex background to the principles of carbon offsetting.

The Shell Go+ loyalty scheme launched in 2019, and members have the ability to gain savings on categories such as hot drinks, car, and motor oils by scanning their app or card when they make a purchase.

Industry body for commercial radio, Radiocentre, said it understood the Shell Go+ offer was a carbon offsetting scheme, rather than a fuel that was carbon neutral in and of itself.

Nevertheless, the ASA's decision to ban the ad provides a warning to retailers and brands to be comprehensive when describing their apps, loyalty programmes, and initiatives in marketing materials.