Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

BBC Airbus-ting

Posted by jembendell on November 6, 2007

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Most days I look at the BBC website. This week I found theyve started carrying advertising. But not any old advertising… no less than adverts saying that flying Airbus is the greener thing to do. See the screen shot below at the foot of this posting. The inaugural flight was from Singapore to Sydney. I didnt know you could drive. Perhaps Toyota brought out an amphibious Lexus while I wasnt looking, complete with storage tanks for weeks at sea.

So I sent their Global advertising person the following email:

Dear Phu,

I would welcome your advice, as the contact on the BBC website for global advertising.

Do you check the scientific credibility and clarity of the claims made by advertisers on your website?

If so, what is your evidence for the claims from Airbus, regarding comparison of flying a full aircraft with driving a car (perhaps single occupancy car)? This is disingenuous because people do not drive from Singapore to Sydney, for example, and flying makes such travel much more possible, and thus increases people’s potential carbon emissions. A comparison with a ship or train would be the only useful comparison for such long distances. The science of these claims was previously challenged in a refereed academic journal in 2002 (Journal of Corporate Citizenship: see http://www.jembendell.com/lw2002/spring4.html)

I would also welcome information on how promoting flying through advertising on your website as viewed by people outside the UK is compatible with:
a) the specific text and general spirit of the BBC Charter.
b) the role of the BBC world service in promoting British international interests, which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is clear now includes global action on carbon emissions
c) a coherence between editorial and advertising, given the current climate change programming on BBC World.

I copy this to colleagues who are interested, as well as Simon Derry at BBC Trust and Kevin Marsh of the BBC college, who presented this summer at a UN event on media responsibilities.

Although I realise you must be getting many questions on this matter at this time I would welcome an answer that is specific to the issues I raise. Please note I will be posting this email and your reply on my personal and company blogs, and including it in my column in the academic journal I mention above.

Regards,
Dr Jem Bendell
Director, Lifeworth
Associate Professor, Griffith Business School
Visiting Fellow, UN Research Institute for Social Development
www.lifeworth.com / www.jembendell.com
jem@lifeworth.com / +44 (0)2078707594
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2 Responses to “BBC Airbus-ting”

  1. jem said

    This reply from Ken Burrell of the BBC.

    Dear Dr Bendell

    Thank you for your e-mail and the points you raise. We have been forwaded
    your e-mail on from Phu Tuong for a response.

    Advertising on our website is expected to conform both to the BBC’s own
    commercial guidelines and to those of the Advertising Standards Authority.
    We do check the veracity of claims made but cannot undertake detailed
    scientific investigations. You may be interested to know that the ASA
    recently rejected a complaint about the Airbus campaign. This is the link
    to the judgement:

    On your broader points the BBC Charter specifically permits the undertaking
    of commercial activities and these already include advertising on BBC World
    and on many international television channels. There is no question of
    “coherence between editorial and advertising”, as you describe it. The two
    activities are required to be totally separate in order to maintain the
    independence and editorial integrity of the corporation. Thus BBC World may
    commission programmes about climate change or any other subject of topical
    relevance without refence to or consideration of commercial interests. A
    complete separation of commercial imperatives from Editorial content is in
    place for the international version of bbc.co.uk which incidentally is no
    longer funded by the FCO but by commercial revenues.

    I do hope this addresses your concerns.

    Regards

    Ken Burrell
    bbc.com support team

    Jem: that link leads to:

    Assessment
    Not upheld
    The ASA noted Airbus had calculated the CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometre for an average diesel car and had then compared that figure with the CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometre for the A380. We noted they had calculated that an average diesel car emitted 107g of CO2 per passenger per kilometre. We also noted the Defra figures used a passenger load factor of 70% to calculate aircraft emissions figures and at that load factor the A380 emitted between 68 g and 103 g of CO2 per passenger kilometre, depending on the number of seats in the aircraft, which was lower than the emissions per kilometre in a car.

    We considered that readers would realise that the A380 and a family car did not have the same use and that Airbus had used the CO2 emissions of a family car as simple and understandable point of reference. We considered that the comparison was accurate and fair and was therefore unlikely to mislead.

    What do you think?

    a) Should there be more coherence between editorial and advertising… especially if editorial relates to organisational values and mission? WWF’s reports “Through the Looking Glass” and “Let Them Eat Cake” suggested this.

    b) Is the medium used to advertise something key to whether the content is responsible? Individual consumers cant turn up at an airport and say they want to fly an airbus 380… so these adverts are an attempt to shape the general public’s opinions on flying.

    c) Is it a fair comparison? People wouldn’t be driving to these places if the aircrafts weren’t available to take them there, so it is a false comparison. Comparison with a train or boat is more sensible for the distances and places traveled by planes like the 380.

  2. Matthew Slater said

    a) Organisations without an ideological perspective are in no way obliged to link their the editorial and advertising. The question for me is, how can people bear to live their lives with so little ideological perspective. BBC is a possible exception. Their mission is to inform and perhaps entertain, not to disseminate propaganda and political bias. It bothers me more when the Guardian does it – the Guardian does have an official political stance; on the other hand, what newspaper doesn’t have an extravagant travel section, and carry adverts for airlines?
    b) and c)
    I don’t know if it is worth arguing with the airbus 380 about fuel consumption. Their wider strategy is reassure the public that flying is ok, and they have many angles of attack on that. As a campaign objective, arguing the toss about fuel consumption is getting stuck in the long grass, I feel. Better to emphasise that air travel is the first and easiest way for us to cut emissions, then insulate your house, work from home blah blah blah, and finally sort your garbage and change your light bulbs…

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