Editorial: Use of climate change shock tactics backfires

Climate change is an enormously emotive subject. It's also, gut feel would suggest, one on which most people agree.

Reading the newspapers or watching TV, you would be forgiven for assuming that the UK public feels pretty strongly that helping the environment is a good thing to do.

Which is why it came as a bit of a surprise last week when the Advertising Standards Authority launched an investigation into the latest Act on CO2 ad, from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, after hordes of people complained that its message was "scaremongering" and based on scanty scientific evidence.

The ad itself is certainly hard-hitting: it features a man reading a bedtime story to his young daughter about a cartoon-style world devastated by climate change. It's also a big departure from the humorous approach taken in the last Act on CO2 campaign.

The fact that it's a lot less disturbing than many other ads that run for government departments does not seem to have made any difference. Like it or not, the ad has clearly misjudged some of the people it is trying to target - and it's rare for an advertiser, or agency, to get the mood of its audience so wrong.

It's safe to assume that the spot went through some pretty exhaustive research and pre-testing. And perhaps the response shouldn't have come as all that much of a surprise. The Department of Energy and Climate Change's whole reason for launching the ad, it said last week, was research that revealed more than half of the UK public think that climate change will have no effect on them.

Whether the ad will get banned or not is hard to say - although it's difficult to believe that the DECC would have come out with such a brutal message without being able to provide evidence to support its claims.

Either way, the fact that it's evoked such a strong response has at least gone some way towards achieving the aim of raising awareness of the issue. Just not, perhaps, in the way that the DECC would have been hoping for.

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