Shell Canada’s Disguised Advertising Techniques Can’t Hide the Truth about the Tar Sands

OTTAWA--Sierra Club Canada filed a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada today alleging Shell Canada and Canwest have violated the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. Over the last three weeks, Canwest has run a series of full page features described as, "A six-week Canwest special information feature on climate change, in partnership with Shell Canada." Sierra Club Canada was at first confused by the one-sided nature of the "information" and contacted the Ottawa Citizen only to find out the “features” were in fact full-page advertisements.

"As a former reporter and ad sales person I was confused by these Shell ads. I could not tell they were ads. They looked and read like editorial content," said John Bennett, Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada.

Provision 2 of the Advertising Standards Code, ‘Disguised Advertising Techniques,’ states: "No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style which conceals its commercial intent.” Over the last three weeks full page feature articles have appeared in Canwest papers including the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun and the Calgary Herald. The features are laid out and by-lined in a similar fashion to the rest of the publications and described as "information features." No attempt has been made to point out to the reader that these "information features" are paid advertisements. One such feature elaborated on the virtues of Shell’s oil sands operations and how Shell was working to develop “cleaner fuels that contribute to improving air quality.”

Sierra Club Canada learned this series was an advertisement only after it complained to the Ottawa Citizen over the unbalanced presentation of an established controversial issue which would be a violation of the Code of Conduct of the Ontario Press Council. Ottawa Citizen publisher, James Orban, confirmed this was an advertising feature in an email saying, "I believe most Citizen readers would realize the page(s) are advertisements for Shell Canada."

Upon confirming the series of full page features were in fact advertising, Sierra Club Canada drafted a complaint to Advertising Standards Canada. The complaint calls upon Advertising Standards Canada to apply whatever sanctions it has as a voluntary regulator to Shell Canada and Canwest. It reads in part, "It is not plausible that no one at a major newspaper chain and a multi-national corporation noticed there was no disclaimer on these ‘information feature(s)’ indicating them to be paid advertisements.”

"The role fossil fuels play in causing climate change is an important and complex issue. Newspapers and oil companies have an ethical if not legal responsibility to present their points of view in an honest straight forward manner,” said Bennett.

Shell Caught Misleading the Public Again>>>

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Contact:
Michael Bernard
Director of Media Relations
Sierra Club Canada
michaelb@sierraclub.ca
(o) 613.241.4611 x230
(c) 613.302.9933
Toll free: 1.888.810.4204
 

Background:

Complaint filed to Advertising Standards Canada on February 10, 2010

• Name, complete mailing address and phone number:

John Bennett, Executive Director, Sierra Club Canada, 412-1 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7, PH: 613.291.6888

• Explain the reason or basis for the complaint and, if known, the provision(s) of the Code that may apply:

Sierra Club Canada is lodging a complaint against Shell Canada, under Provision 2 of the Advertising Standards Code, ‘Disguised Advertising Techniques’, which states: "No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style which conceals its commercial intent.”

The complaint centers around the “six-week Canwest special information feature on climate change, in partnership with Shell Canada” which has appeared in Canwest papers including: the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun. The articles in question appeared in print and online on Saturday January 23, 2010; Saturday, January 30, 2010; and Saturday February 6, 2010

The features are laid out and by-lined in a similar fashion to the rest of the publications and are described as "information features". No attempt has been made to point out to the reader that these "information features" are paid advertisements.

It is not plausible that no one at a major newspaper chain and a multi-national corporation noticed there was no disclaimer on these ‘information feature(s)’ indicating them to be paid advertisements.


• Identify the product or service being advertised:

Shell Canada, oil sands and Shell technology

• For print advertisements, include the name and date of the publication in which you saw the advertisement(s) and include a copy of the advertisement(s):

Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, January 30, 2010, and Saturday February 6, 2010
(Note: These articles also appeared in the Canwest publications listed above.)

• For Internet advertisements, identify the date of viewing and the website address, and include a copy of the advertisement and other applicable web pages:

The following ‘advertisements’ are online as of February 10, 2010:

http://www.canada.com/news/shell/Climate+change+reality+check/2437115/st...

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/shell/Capturing+carbon+dioxide/25176...

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/shell/innovation+unlocks+sands/2500475...

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/shell/innovation+unlocks+sands/2500475/...

February 12, 2010

Sierra Club Canada would like to add to our complaint on the Canwest, Shell Canada "Information Features". The following articles/advertisements online are filed under the News section with news urls:

http://www.canada.com/news/shell/Climate+change+reality+check/2437115/st...

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/shell/Capturing+carbon+dioxide/25176...

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/shell/innovation+unlocks+sands/2500475...

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/shell/innovation+unlocks+sands/2500475/...

http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/shell/Capturing+carbon+dioxide+addit...

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/shell/Capturing+carbon+dioxide/2517667...

http://www.nationalpost.co/story.html?id=2527101

February 13, 2010

Adding to our complaint file against Shell Canada and Canwest. There is no change in the lay-out of the "Information Feature" running this week in print and online and thus still falls under Provision 2 of the Advertising Standards Code, ‘Disguised Advertising Techniques’, which states: "No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style which conceals its commercial intent.”

The ad is still described as "a Canwest special information feature...in partnership with Shell Canada." This blurs the line between ethical journalistic standards and advertorial content. Is Canwest claiming as much responsibility for the ad as Shell? In this case, the news provider and the advertiser are in partnership further blurring the line.

Ads appearing online are embedded under the news section with slightly shaded borders and still contain News URLs. Disguised Advertising at its best!

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/index.html
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/index.html
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/shell/Capturing+carbon+dioxide/2517667...
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/shell/Capturing+carbon+dioxide/2517667/...

Campaign:

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