Airline censored by ad watchdog for making false eco claims

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 06 Jan 2010 15:15, Last updated: 2010-01-06
A Finnair Airbus A340 at the centre of the bogus green ad claims

An airline has been censored by the UK advertising watchdog for making claims it was “eco-smart” for passengers to fly with them.

Marketing chiefs at Finnair have been ordered to pull their ad campaign after regulators ruled they had breached standards by claiming it was more green to fly long-haul via Helsinki on their new Airbus fleet.

An ad poster for the airline featured a photo of an Airbus flying over the Finnish coastline, with the claim: “Be eco-smart. Choose Finnair’s brand new fleet”.

But the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has this week upheld two complaints that the claim "be eco-smart" misleadingly implied that flying was environmentally friendly and Finnair could not substantiate that the new fleet was greener in comparison with older planes.

Finnair had argued that it did not intend to claim that flying was "environmentally friendly" and accepted that flying would not always be the best form of transportation from an environmental point of view.

But the company said it sought to convey their belief that it was "eco-smart" to choose their airline because they took environmental concerns into consideration.

And they claimed that it was better to fly with them because their flights, via Helsinki were more direct to Asian destinations which meant planes could carry less fuel and travel for shorter distances.

Finnair also believed that Helsinki had an advantage as a hub airport because it had fewer passengers but more runways in contrast to other comparable airports, such as Heathrow. They said this meant the local airspace was less congested and there was a reduction in unnecessary time flying whilst planes waited to land.

But the ASA ruled against the company saying that although it was not the company's intention to convey the message that flying was environmentally friendly, readers were likely to interpret the claim eco-smart as a green claim.

The panel decided the claim was likely to mislead and was in breach of the advertising code of standards.

In a statement, the ASA said: “We noted that the Code instructed marketers to refrain from such absolute claims without qualification unless they could demonstrate that their product or service would not cause environmental damage.

“We considered that the claim 'Be eco-smart' gave the impression to readers that they would personally be eco-smart if they chose to fly with Finnair rather than with another airline.

“It was noted that, in conjunction with that claim, the ad featured the image of a plane in flight, which affirmed the impression that in-use, Finnair planes were better for the environment than their competitors aircraft, on a per passenger per kilometre basis.

“We noted Finnair had sent data comparing their older MD-11 aircraft with their newer A330 and A340 Airbus aircraft. However, we noted that the ad did not contain any qualifying text that would indicate to readers that the claim "Be eco-smart. Choose Finnairs brand new fleet" was based on a comparison between Finnairs own older and newer aircraft.

“We considered readers were likely to understand that the comparison was between flying with Finnair and flying with other airlines. Furthermore, we noted that Finnairs MD-11s were still in use, so it was unclear whether readers choosing to use Finnair both at the time the ad appeared, and up until February 2010 when Finnair said the MD-11s would all be replaced, would, in fact, be flying on one of Finnairs older planes or one of their newer Airbus aircraft.”

Today's ASA ruling in full read: “In order to substantiate the interpretation of the claim "Be eco-smart. Choose Finnairs brand new fleet", we considered that Finnair would need to be able to provide robust comparative data for emissions for actual flights as opposed to theoretical emissions data.

“We understood that it did not automatically follow that newer aircraft were more environmentally efficient in use than older aircraft and that factors such as load factor (passengers and cargo) flights times and trajectories would also need to be taken into account when attempting to calculate whether someone flying in one plane compared to another, on a comparative route, was likely to contribute a comparatively smaller carbon footprint as a result of that decision.

“We noted Finnairs view that it was preferable to fly with them because they believed their flights, via Helsinki, to Asian destinations were more direct than routes flown by competitors. However, we understood that not all flights taken with Finnair would be more direct. For example a flight from Moscow to Bangkok would be longer in distance to fly via Helsinki than it would be to fly direct.

“We also noted Finnairs view that because its flights were broken into two flights, they were more fuel efficient than competitors flights. However, we understood from a Royal Commission report on the environmental effects of civil aviation that short haul flights had disproportionate environmental impacts.

“That report stated 'the most fuel efficient flight distance is 2300 nautical miles (4,300 km)'. The examples of flights sent by Finnair showed that flight distances exceeded this fuel efficient distance and we considered that shorter flights alone did not necessarily make a flight route more environmentally friendly.

“We acknowledged the data sent by Finnair, but noted there was no comparative in-flight data to demonstrate that flying with Finnair was preferable to flying with their competitors on a per passenger per kilometre basis in terms of emissions.

“In the absence of robust per passenger per kilometre comparative data between actual Finnair flights and those of their competitors on comparative routes, we considered that Finnair had not substantiated the claim that it would be "eco-smart" to fly with the planes in their "brand new fleet" compared to flying with planes in their competitors fleets and concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.”

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