An advertisement by BMW in the UK has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) due to its misleading claim that BMW electric vehicles produce zero emissions. The ad, which appeared as a paid Google advertisement on 16 August 2023, stated, "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."
The ASA challenged the claim of "Zero Emissions Cars," arguing that it inaccurately represented the environmental impact of BMW's electric vehicles. The ASA says that while it is true that electric vehicles emit zero emissions when being driven, emissions are still generated during other phases such as manufacturing or charging, especially if the electricity comes from non-renewable sources.
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The CAP Code mandates that marketing communications must not materially mislead consumers, and the basis of environmental claims must be transparent. The ASA determined that the BMW ad did not adequately clarify that the “zero emissions” claim only applied to the vehicle's operation whilst driving, thus likely misleading consumers.
BMW explained that they had bid on terms like "Zero Emission Cars" to target consumers interested in battery electric vehicles, and the term appeared in the ad due to an automatic keyword feature in Google Ads. The ASA noted that the claim appeared in only a small fraction (0.02 per cent) of the impressions delivered by BMW's paid search activity.
In response to the complaint, BMW halted bidding on "Zero Emissions Cars" keywords and reviewed all generic keywords it used. The firm also committed to turning off the automatic keyword feature in Google Ads for such terms and ensuring greater control over future ad copy to avoid misleading claims.
Around the same time, in the summer of last year, MG ran a similar Google ad with a “zero emissions” claim, which was also banned by the ASA. “Both ads appeared on Google search and claimed their electric vehicles had ‘zero emissions’” ASA spokesman Toby King told AutoExpress. “While we accepted this was true when driving, we determined this was misleading as they still produced emissions when manufactured or, depending on the electrical source, when charging. We’ve therefore banned these ads and told BMW and MG to ensure they don’t make similar claims without robust evidence in future.”