A brilliant approach

While we’re at it, can we ban these? (Minneapolitans know what I mean)

I love this idea out of any country other than the US.

Last month this Scottish city — filled with medieval spires and shadowed by the looming castle on the hill said to have inspired the Harry Potter books — made a startlingly modern decision. Edinburgh’s city council voted to ban fossil fuel advertisements on city property, undermining the ability of not only oil companies, but also car manufacturers, airlines and cruise ships, to promote their products. The ban targeted arms manufacturers as well.

Edinburgh is not alone. Amsterdam and Sydney have cracked down on advertisements for fossil fuels and high-emissions products. France also limited the promotion of coal, gas and hydrogen made from fossil fuels. Even the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, has joined in, endorsing a ban on fossil fuel ads this month in a speech in New York this month: “Stop the Mad Men from fueling the madness.”

A fantastically potent tactic, I think. It’s not just that the general public will lose a source of misinformation and propaganda for practices that harm the world, but that media will lose an incentive to peddle petroleum products. What would the news be like if mass media were no longer motivated to downplay ideas, like climate change, because big corporations were no longer sensitive to specific kinds of advertisers?

Here in the US I’d also like to see a ban on advertising pharmaceuticals. I don’t watch broadcast television much at all anymore, but one of the reasons is the infuriatingly stupid ads for drugs. Killing car commercials and Ozempic ads would have interesting side effects on the commentary out of the news room.


  1. nomdeplume says

    There will be a backlash from corporatiojs supported by right-wing media, and politicians will cave and reverse these decisions.

  2. John Morales says

    When was the last time you saw advertising for tobacco products, nomdeplume?

  3. robro says

    I never understood how advertising works.

    I don’t think my partner and I make any buying decisions based on advertising. We don’t watch broadcast television, but we see plenty of ads for things in other contexts. I assume that when my partner starts watching a movie on stream or DVD, or goes to the New York Times homepage from her library access, she sees ads. I’m watch reels on FaceBook which has started the annoying practice of interrupting a real with an ad or two, but skip is usually a few seconds away. And of course, the news feed has plenty of ads but ignoring those is easy.

    Even in the 50s when I was kid and my parents and I watched broadcast TV every night, I don’t think they ever saw an ad and said, “Let’s go buy that.” My dad was a heavy smoker but I would be surprised that he switched from Lucky Strikes to Salems because of an ad.

  4. says

    In the US it would probably be considered by the courts to be a violation of freedom of speech. Also corporate speech seems to be more protected here than an individual person’s speech.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    Edinburgh’s city council voted to ban fossil fuel advertisements on city property

    In the USA there would be a distinction between property owned by the city, and property owned by individuals within the city limits. So this may be a token gesture, unless word usage is different there.

  6. kome says

    Advertising works not by encouraging people to go out immediately and change their behavior. It works by slowly acclimatizing people to the presence of products or brands in their life or services in their area. It increases familiarity, and familiarity increases our positive attitude towards a thing, even if only a little bit. And we are surrounded by advertising in all shapes. Just having the brand name of the product highly visible on the product itself is a kind of advertising. Advertising also works by cramming out of your mind the idea of potential competing brands. How many other cola companies are you aware of besides Coca-Cola and Pepsi? Advertising works, in part, by not being so overt enough as to make people think advertising works on them. But there would not be hundreds of billions of dollars spent on advertising every year if it had little to no effect. But, advertising also works by just being around when you go looking for ads. If you need to hire a pest control company, or hire a plumber, you contact places that advertise their services to let you know they exist. And bigger ads, more ads, better designed ads, etc. will all subtly communicate greater professionalism (which may or may not actually be true).

    If you look around your home and take stock of the brands of things you have, you’ll see just how much stuff you own that comes from the companies that spend exorbitant money on advertising and how relatively little you own comes from companies that don’t spend gobs of advertising.

    In a very real sense, the line between advertising and propaganda is gossamer thin. It works on you just as effectively even if you think it’s not the type of thing that works on you. Which, to be clear, is not a bad thing. I like that I know what the best taco place in town is thanks to their advertising, and I like that I know what the cheapest taco place in town is thanks to their advertising (they’re not the same place, sadly). I stand to benefit in some way from it. But I also know that so do the taquerias near me.

  7. Jazzlet says

    Reginald Selkirk @#4
    In the UK it would mean no on street advertising, and depending on the area none on private property either. You can’t for instance put up ads in a conservation area that are out of character for the area, and plenty of Edinburgh is conservation areas.

    kome @#6
    Or you’ll see that the care you take to try and source the products you buy responsibly has paid off. I’m not saying there are no big name products in my house, but they tend to be in areas where there is little choice but to go for a big name, I mean I’m typing this on a Lenovo Think Pad, but there aren’t that many alternatives. And yes I have books published by some of the big publishers, but if I want a book by a particular author I have no choice about that, is it worse to ‘support’ one of the big six and the author or to pirate a copy?

  8. Robbo says

    @PZ i would love cancelling kris lindahl and those billboard ads that litter MN highways.

    (they are less annoying than the pro-life billboards though)

  9. antigone10 says

    The Pro-life ads are WAY more annoying the Kris Lindahl. The Kris Lindahl ads have basically convinced me to never use him to buy houses (should that ever be a problem I have). The Pro-life ads are annoying, counter-factual, and use poor grammar. They are the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

    Ads for prescription meds always strike me as incredibly creepy, as well.

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