Climate Emergency Manchester launches #BadvertsMCR campaign against high carbon advertising

Advertising. Probably not something you give much thought to, day in, day out. And yet in modern Britain it’s all around us – on the radio, TV, following you around the Web, in the paper, on billboards, bus stops, buses. Pretty much any available surface is put to use trying to sell us things. 

And it works – over decades, advertisers have worked out ways to tug at our heartstrings, soothe, scare and reassure us, all in the service of selling. And they’ve got very good at it – especially for things we don’t need, but they tell us we should want

But it’s a (sort of, if you squint a bit) free country, right? Nobody’s making you buy these things! Right? RIGHT?

Well in theory, no. But in practice, we know it works, even if you’re not consciously aware of it.  And so do the companies who want to sell you the high carbon products and services that are fuelling climate breakdown. Fossil fuel companies. Car manufacturers, airlines, holidays in far flung destinations. Patio heaters. Fast food restaurants. The list is long.

But what can we do about it? There are laws about obscene advertising, false advertising, misleading advertising. But what about high carbon advertising?

Well, that’s where our new campaign comes in. The goal is to get Manchester City Council to ban (or at the least, seriously restrict) advertising for high carbon products in Manchester, at least on land which the Council owns – with a stretch goal to get all the other nine GMCA councils to join in.

We will be going into more details with blogs over the next few weeks, but let’s open by answering some key questions.

Does Manchester even have any ad sites?

Oh yes. You know those double sided LED screens in the city centre? MCC owns that advertising contract as well as contracts for any other advertising on their land. And they have the planning powers over advertising, including the ability to block certain types of adverts across the area.

What do you mean by high carbon advertising?

Any advert by a fossil fuel company, including those for their tiny greenwashing wind farm projects, should definitely be banned. We’d also like MCC to ban adverts for flights (especially short-haul), cars (especially SUVs), fast fashion, luxury goods and meat products. 

Is there even a precedent for this kind of thing?

Let’s take this two ways. Is there a precedent that restricting advertising works for tackling an issue? Think about cigarette advertising. Continued exposure to advertising not only encourages us to consume more but also tells us that those companies are legitimate and should be allowed to continue. In the last 50 years we banned cigarette advertising, brought in plain packaging and reduced the number of places people could smoke because we wanted to take away cigarette companies’ social license to operate, and we saw huge drops in cigarette sales across the UK.

As for councils banning high carbon advertising, the first place to do it was Amsterdam, and there are now a handful of councils in the UK that have passed motions to ban high carbon advertising including Liverpool City Council, Norwich City Council and North Somerset Council.

Do you think it’ll work?

Will this solve the climate crisis? No, but it will help. How can we expect people to change their behaviour, fly less often, eat less meat, buy and use fewer cars, if they’re being manipulated into doing just that at every turn? And the evidence shows that exposure to high carbon adverts is hurting the planet.Jaguar won’t go quietly into the void

Besides that, consider the situation right now. Manchester City Council, despite its many claims of climate leadership, currently chooses to prop up fossil fuel companies, cars, short haul flights and rainforest-deforesting beef burgers. It chooses to accept money in exchange for legitimising and platforming these companies. That is, put simply, morally unacceptable.

What should I do?

If you want to work with us on the campaign, send us an email. If you want to support the campaign, send your councillor an email. If you’re a councillor, read this toolkit for introducing a low carbon advertising policy.

We also really want to see any high carbon advertising you see out on the streets of Manchester, so send us an email or tag us in your socials with a picture of the ad, the location and the date of the sighting, and the hashtag #BadvertsMCR.

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