ASA & Climate Change

act-on-co2-tub The British Advertising Standards Authority has today ruled against two press adverts for the “Act on CO2” campaign ( the ruling can be found here) . The two posters, using childrens’ book type imagery and nursery rhymes to highlight the effect climate change will have were deemed as being misleading (but cleared of causing “undue distress”).
While any banning of adverts is probably not great news, it’s good to see that the ASA has become a little more sensible in handling public-service type messages, and did not rule against some of the other adverts covered by the complaint. This at least seems to suggest that the ASA has learned the lesson from the extensive criticism it received when banning the “Fish Hook” anti-smoking campaign three years ago.

However, it is also sad to see that government advertising is still heavily relying on negative appeals, rather then trying to be supportive and relying on more positive ways of changing behaviour. Of course, my view on this is not because use of fear appeals is likely to be distressing – but rather because unless there is a quick and easy fix, fear appeals and negative advertising tone simply does not encourage lasting behaviour change. In fact, what it is more likely to do is to cause reactance against the message – this is because most individuals likely reaction towards such appeals is to “protect themselves” from the truth of the message by ignoring it – or arguing (and self-convincing) the case against the message (the typical example is the “Yes, but my grandmother smoked every day, and she lived to be 100”-kind of response). And in such cases, it is actually likely that people will actually perform the exact behaviour the message tries to counter-argue (with probably the most famous case being the “Think. Don’t Smoke!” adverts, which actually caused people to to take up smoking).

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