Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Deutsche Lufthansa AG t/a Lufthansa.
Where: United Kingdom
When: June 2022
Law stated as at: 13 April 2023
In June 2022, an image of a plane could be seen on an advert for Lufthansa, where the underside of the plane depicted an image of the earth from space. The ad included text which read ”LUFTHANSA GROUP. CONNECTING THE WORLD. PROTECTING ITS FUTURE’‘.
The ASA challenged whether the ad misrepresented the advertiser’s environmental impact.
It was argued by Lufthansa that the ad was part of a wider campaign called “#MakeChangeFly” that addressed the need to reduce the impact of flying on the environment by increasing consumer awareness. It was stated that the advertisement contained a clear link to the “#makechangefly” website.
Lufthansa argued that the tagline ”CONNECTING THE WORLD, PROTECTING ITS FUTURE” could be interpreted in various ways, but that alongside the imagery it would not be understood as an absolute promise of the company’s services, especially one that their services didn’t harm the environment at all.
They also indicated that it would be inconsistent to conclude that the latter half of the tagline ”PROTECTING ITS FUTURE” would be absolute, if the initial part ”CONNECTING THE WORLD” was not. Additionally they concluded that the imagery of the half plane and half globe even presented the tagline as potential dissension. Lufthansa stated that consumers would interpret the slogan ”PROTECTING ITS FUTURE” as a mission statement to draw people to Lufthansa’s website so that they could educate themselves about the environmental issues associated to flying, and the way in which they are addressed by Lufthansa. The ad was only clearly linked to environmental claims when viewed on the website, and the website had sufficient explanations and qualified claims.
Lufthansa stated that they were aware that the aviation industry has an adverse impact on the environment and emits a great deal of carbon dioxide. As one of the largest purchasers of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, Lufthansa’s website indicated that they took climate change seriously and outlined their efforts to protect the environment. Using the website, consumers would be able to see Lufthansa’s efforts to reduce air travel’s environmental impact, and consumers would not be misled about Lufthansa’s environmental impact as a result of qualifying information in the ad via the link to the website.
The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) requires that absolute environmental claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. The ASA found the ad to have breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), and 11.1, 11.3 and 11.4 (Environmental claims).
In spite of Lufthansa’s opinion that the claim was ambiguous and not clearly linked to the environment in isolation, the ASA still considered that “PROTECTING ITS FUTURE” was likely to be seen as a reference to how Lufthansa’s approach to aviation was protecting the world’s future, since this text appeared immediately following the text “CONNECTING THE WORLD” and was superimposed on a globe image.
According to the ASA, consumers are likely to interpret the claim as meaning Lufthansa has already taken significant steps to ensure their business has a non-harmful net environmental impact. Although Lufthansa said they were committed to delivering a number of initiatives and targets, they also noted that many of these initiatives would not deliver results for decades or even generations.
According to the ASA, there are currently no environmental initiatives or commercially viable technologies in the aviation industry that would support the assertion “PROTECTING ITS FUTURE”.
It was therefore not clear what the claim was based on and it was not adequately substantiated, which was in violation of the code.
Why this matters:
The ASA’s ruling that Lufthansa’s ad misled consumers by being unsubstantiated will inevitably raise questions for similar companies about how they market their environmental initiatives. It is important that companies not exaggerate their environmental commitments when marketing if they are to maintain their sustainability focus at a time when it is seen as critical for companies to do so.