BP has spent more than £800,000 on influencer social media ads in the UK this year which champion the company’s investments in green energy, it can be revealed.
On Tuesday, BP announced a 14-year high profit of £7 billion for the second quarter of this year. In the previous eight days, the company paid around £570,000 to Facebook and Instagram for influencer ads which reached tens of millions of viewers in the UK.
“These adverts are meant to create a warm, clean glow on the companies involved, giving them more social license to operate,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK.
The influencer ads, which also highlight BP’s contributions to UK energy security, began two days after Labor proposed a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas in January. BP’s spending on these ads rose in the weeks before Rishi Sunak announced an “energy profit tax” on May 26, according to the Eco-Bot.Net and Guardian survey. ‘Support Britain: Providing Local Energy’ reads numerous advertisements in green print on a map of the UK.
“Corporate interests have used advertising for many years to enhance their reputation. And when it comes to corporate taxes, reputation matters to politicians,” said Laura Edelson, an online political communications researcher at New York University.
The influencer ads promote BP’s plan to “transition to net zero” by phasing out oil and gas production and investing more in “low carbon” and renewable energy sources.
“BP markets itself as offering green solutions that are good for the UK, but those investments are dwarfed by the amount of money they put into fossil fuels,” Parr said. “They are doing this while making record profits and as millions of UK households are pushed into fuel poverty.”
BP has some of the most ambitious energy transition plans among the oil and gas majors, but an analysis by Oil Change International in May found the sector’s plans are nowhere near enough to limit global heating to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels – the target set out in the Paris agreement.
“The green investments they describe represent only a small part of current energy production and investment behavior,” said Gregory Trencher, who studies energy policy and sustainable transitions at Kyoto University. “In that sense, the ads are misleading.”
“It’s like someone who is still transitioning to healthy eating but asking for kudos in advance. It doesn’t tell the reader that BP continues to open up new oil and gas fields,” said Trencher, who describes the ads as “greenwashing.”
A BP spokesperson said: “The UK is a microcosm of our strategy, and we are investing heavily here. Our advertisements highlight the specifics, range and scale of the things we plan to do here – including offshore wind, North Sea oil and gas, hydrogen and carbon capture, and electric vehicle charging.
Shell, which announced record profits last month, also paid Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to run dozens of influencer ads this year which reached more than a million viewers in the UK .
The ads promoted Shell’s investments in renewable energy and electric car charging stations, but were not listed by the company as being related to “social issues, elections and politics” – and as as such, they aired without warning about who was paying for the ad.
“Better transparency for users, for example, who pay to put this information in front of them, helps them put what they see into context,” said Edelson, who is also an adviser to the Real Facebook Supervisory Boarda group of self-proclaimed activists demanding accountability from Facebook’s oversight board.
Spend and reach information is only disclosed on Meta’s ad library for social and political ads, and only those ads remain visible in the ad library after they end.
The Shell adverts investigated were eventually removed by Meta for violating company policy, but the investigation revealed that dozens of other similar adverts had been running without warning for over a month, apparently undetected by Meta’s moderation process.
A Shell spokesperson said: “Shell aims for clarity, transparency and trust in all our communications. The Meta Advertising Disclaimer Policy is fully supported by Shell.
“Initial investigations suggest that the disclaimer was mistakenly not applied to some recent Shell content, and we are investigating this matter with our media buying agency. We have also asked them to take immediate corrective action.
A spokesperson for Meta said: “We require all advertisers running ads on social issues, including those on environmental topics, to include a ‘paid by’ disclaimer. Our app isn’t perfect, but we’re always striving to strengthen and improve our processes.”
Eco-Bot.Net harvests databases of social media advertisements paid for by some of the most polluting companies in the world. The ads are then analyzed by journalists and researchers.
Meta offers to put advertisements in front of the eyes of specific “tailored audiences” based on detailed profiles of the users they constitute. Audiences are segmented based on age, gender, geographic location, income, and many other types of personal data in a practice called “microtargeting.”
The analysis found that most of BP’s UK targeted ads this year reached viewers aged 25-44, but a more detailed analysis of targeting practices was not possible based on the data. available in Meta’s ad library.
Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.