Does Heathrow advert implying a small girl needs a 3rd runway, for her future, meet Advertising Standards?
Update: 10th December 2014
There is still no decision by the Advertising Standards Authority on the Heathrow advert. The ASA now say:
“….the investigation had been delayed due to some new points being raised by additional complainants. Since then another couple of issues have been added to the investigation, meaning that we have had to again engage in further discussion with the advertiser.
“However, we have now received Heathrow’s response on all points, including the newest ones. We are currently in the process of drawing up the documents for the next stage of the case, and hope that we may be able to send these out [to those who submitted complaints] by the end of the month.”
…. and they say “… the issues around advertising claims of this nature are complex and our investigation will necessarily take some time” …. and they are working to address the concerns of the many people who complained as promptly as they are able.
The Heathrow advert
Earlier this week, Heathrow put out full page advertisements for their 3rd runway. This is part of an on-going, and expensive media campaign. However, they may have mis-judged the tone of this one. It features a small girl, aged about 5, with her hand up – and the text makes out that her future well being will depend upon ….. guess what?? …. a new Heathrow runway. The advert says the 3rd runway will deliver “… at least £100 billion of economic benefits [no timescale given] the length and breadth of the country. …. So, even if our little girl never leaves home, she’ll still feel the benefit.” People may have been inspired to write to the Advertising Standards Authority, to complain about this rather dubious text, with unsubstantiated claims, making use of a small child, to try to make a PR point. One such letter to the ASA has been copied to AirportWatch, in which the writer clearly puts the case that what this child needs is a stable climate for her future, not accelerating carbon emissions. The writer believes the advert to be misleading, and asks the ASA to have it withdrawn. There is now an Avaaz petition to the ASA on this ad.
Later news (October): The ASA have now taken this matter up with Heathrow airport, to be dealt with under the ASA’s formal investigations procedure. After various stages, including giving Heathrow the opportunity to send evidence to support their claims, the ASA’s decision will be published on their website. Timescale not known.
Copy of the Heathrow full page advert, as it appeared on 16.9.2014 on Page 11 of City AM.
Formal complaint against Heathrow Airport
An advert in today’s Observer (21st September 2014) is based entirely on the supposition that expansion of Heathrow with a 3rd runway would be to the benefit off children and future generations.
But this is a false supposition. World scientists agree that the world has reached a crucial point in the acceleration of climate change caused by human emissions, and that air travel forms a crucial part of these emissions. To build more runways producing yet more emissions could set off a series positive feedback as detailed in Professor Houghton’s textbook on Global Warming, reaching irreversible tipping-points with the potential to make this planet uninhabitable for future generations.
Global warming is already estimated to be responsible for thousands of deaths around the world – by such means as increased incidents of flooding, droughts, crop failures leading to starvation, landslides, forest fires, etc., etc. To allow greenhouse emissions by all means but particularly air traffic where the effects are magnified, is to subject children of today and future generations to even greater such calamities.
Thus Heathrow Airport, by presenting its expansion as being wholly to the benefit of future generations without even mentioning the risks and dangers of such increases in air traffic, is consciously misleading the public.
The advertisement should therefore be immediately banned and withdrawn.
Submitted to Advertising Standards Authority, 21st September 2014
Avaaz petition to the ASA asking them to ban the Heathrow advert.
To make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, see
The ASA states:
Make a complaint
|1. First, check whether your complaint is covered by the ASA. [This advert is covered]. Find out what we cover here, or if you’re still not sure, call/textphone us to discuss your complaint.Our contact details can be found here.
Advertising Standards Authority Limited
Tel: 020 7492 2222
|2. If it is, submit your complaint online, or telephone,textphone, or write to us.Online form|
|3. We’ll give you the name of the person who will handle the case and be your point of contact.|
|4. The names of those who make a complaint are kept confidential from the advertiser, unless you are asking us to have your name taken off a mailing list or the complaint is from an individual, competitor or organisation with obvious interest in the outcome of the complaint (such as consumer bodies and pressure groups).|
|5. We can often resolve complaints quickly. For instance, we can have an ad changed if it’s a minor mistake or chase up an undelivered mail order item on your behalf. If it’s not that simple, we may need to conduct a formal investigation, which can take longer.|
|6. A formal investigation means the ASA Council will rule on the matter. We contact all parties involved (complainant, advertiser and, if appropriate, the broadcaster) and inform them of the process. We ask the advertiser and broadcaster to provide evidence for any claims they make and, if needed, to provide justification about why they thought the ad was appropriate.|
|7. We consider all the information we receive and place the facts of the case before the ASA Council which decides whether the Advertising Codes have been breached.|
|8. We publish our rulings in full every Wednesday and make the findings available to the media.|
|9. Ads that break the rules are required to be amended or withdrawn, if they aren’t, we will take steps to make sure our ruling is followed.|
10. We take every step to make sure the process is fair, which is why there is an Independent Review Procedure that allows complainants and advertisers to request a review of a ruling.
This leaflet provides a straight forward guide to our process Making a complaint.
Another complaint about the Heathrow advertisement said:
The advert shows a small girl, aged about 5. The text implies that a 3rd Heathrow runway will be important for her future well being. It used various figures that are unsubstantiated, and offers no supporting data for its claims, like a national benefit of “£100 billion” – though gives no timescale for this. And claims about future jobs etc.
The advert also completely ignores the fact that this small child (if it is current photo) will actually need a stable world to grow up in. This will require a stable climate. At present we have a serious threat of an altered climate, from man made carbon emissions. An expanded Heathrow would be one of the largest, if not the largest, emitters of CO2 in the UK. Growing the carbon emissions from UK air travel are probably not the thing this small child needs most.
It also seems distasteful to try to push this runway, which would cause serious adverse impacts for thousands of people locally, using a child as a marketing aid.
I believe the advert is inaccurate, contains dubious claims, ignores important details, and is in poor taste.
It should therefore be withdrawn, and Heathrow should be advised that it should advertise more responsibly in future.
On the economic claims by Heathrow:
Prime Economics: “Out of thin air – the economic case for a 3rd Heathrow runway”
Prime Economics, a group of independent economic thinkers, has taken a look at Heathrow’s claims about the economic case for a 3rd runway. They are not impressed. While Heathrow (see its latest advert) says: “If we want Britain’s economy to keep growing, we need to grow Heathrow”, the reality is very different. Among Heathrow’s dodgy 3rd runway economic claims, they say: “• It will bring economic benefits of £100bn • It will bring 120,000 new jobs • Every month the problem goes unresolved is costing the British economy £1.25bn through lost trade”. Prime Economics says “the evidence for each of these is very thin and hypothetical …. The link between trade and airport capacity is at best indirect, and certainly opaque. At a macroeconomic level, the impact is simply invisible.” They say “Economies depend on many factors, and hub capacity is one of the least significant, at least once you reach a decent threshold of scale.” They pick to pieces the £1.25 billion figure; the idea that the UK needs flights to every destination in every country; and the hub competition between EU countries. “The current debate assumes exponential growth both of our economies and of our travel into the indefinite future. This will not happen … Airports …are not the main drivers of economic success nor of national well-being.” Well worth reading.