UK advertising watchdog ASA to root out false green claims with AI

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) chief executive Guy Parker has claimed that artificial intelligence (AI) tools could help counteract the increased use of unverified climate buzzwords for products.

Parker puts the rise in unfounded claims down to the use of automated tools in marketing and believes that AI can help boost the number of ads that the regulator scrutinises.

He told the Financial Times that automated tools could amplify unverified marketing buzzwords, raising some “tricky questions about where accountability lies”, warning that people “can’t abdicate responsibility by saying, ‘sorry, the AI did that’”.

While decisions on promotions will still be made by humans, the ASA plans to scan ten million adverts for wrongdoing in 2024, compared to three million last year and just tens of thousands in 2022, all thanks to AI tools.

The ASA will scan for phrases like “recyclable”, “compostable” and “carbon neutral”, ensuring that they come with enough context, as well as seeking out ads that promote activities such as gambling and vaping to minors.

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One claim that raises alarm bells is “carbon neutral”, Parker told the FT, as companies that use carbon offsets to justify this green claim are “kind of cheating” in the eyes of consumers.

The ASA has recently barred claims by drinks company BrewDog and shirt retailer Charles Tyrwhitt to be “carbon negative” or “carbon neutral”.

In December, the ASA also flagged a suggestion by Norway’s Equinor that wind farms, oil and gas, and carbon capture play a balanced role in its energy mix, when most of the company’s revenues still comes from oil and gas.

Since Parker joined as chief executive in 2009, the ASA has won high-profile battles over accuracy and fairness in advertising, including against government bodies like the Home Office and consumer goods companies such as Danone and Coca-Cola, decisions which are typically heavily contested.


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