The campaign, which appeared in January 2021, featured the controversial ‘Help Dad’ TV ad, a second related television commercial, as well as a paid-for Facebook post, a paid-for Twitter post and two press adverts.
‘Help Dad’ flipped the traditional teenager-parent dynamic on its head, by placing teens in a position of authority where they scolded their fathers about their milk drinking habits.
The campaign attracted a total of 109 complaints, with people taking issue with claims that Oatly’s drinks generated 73% less Co2e than milk, alongside the assertion “the dairy and meat industries emitted more CO2e than all the world’s planes, trains, cars, boats etc, combined”.
The remaining three issues highlighted by complainants centred on claims by Oatly that more than 25% of all the world’s greenhouse gases were generated by the food sector; how “climate experts” said cutting dairy and meat could be the “single biggest lifestyle change we can make to reduce our environmental impact”; and how – if everyone in the world adopted a vegan diet – the food sector’s annual emissions would fall by 49%, 6.6 billion tonnes.
In its defence, Oatly said it had commissioned independent product lifecycle assessment experts CarbonCloud to calculate the emissions of the Oatly Barista Edition oat drink and British whole cows milk.
However, the ASA considered consumers would understand the claim “Oatly generates 73% less CO2e vs. milk” to mean that all Oatly products generated 73% less CO2e compared with any type of cows milk, and expected to see evidence relating to the CO2e produced for all Oatly products and types of cows milk, not just the Barista Edition.
Oatly added its comparison of the CO2e emissions from meat and dairy versus the transport sector was made because the impact of transport on climate change was more widely understood than the impact from food choices.
It also cited reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the UK Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
And in addition, it provided an extract from a meta-analysis published in the journal Science by climate expert Joseph Poore, as well as a newspaper article in which he spoke about the removal of dairy and meat products from diets as the single biggest lifestyle change that can be made to reduce environmental impact.
However, the ASA said the evidence only provided the opinion of one climate expert and the word “probably” had been omitted from the claim, meaning the ad “overstated” what the evidence supported.
It ultimately upheld the first four complaints after finding they breached the Committee of Advertising Practice’s code rules on misleading advertising, substantiation and Environmental claims. The ASA did not uphold the final complaint linking emission falls to “everyone” adopting a vegan diet, as it had been sufficiently substantiated.
The regulator said the ads must not appear again in the forms complained about.
“We told Oatly UK to ensure that the basis of any environmental claim was made clear, including what parts of the lifecycle had been included and which excluded. We also told them to ensure they held adequate evidence to substantiate environmental claims made in their ads as they would be understood by consumers,” the ASA stated.
The ruling follows the banning of an Alpro ad last October for similar unsubstantiated environmental claims and marks a tightening in regulation of such claims by the ASA, which published new guidance on the matter at the end of 2021.
It also represents another reputational blow to the Oatly brand after it failed in a bid to sue rival oat drinks supplier Glebe Farm over claims the Cambridgeshire-based business’ PureOaty brand had infringed its Oatly and Oat-ly! trademarks.
Oatly spokesman Tim Knight said it “was clear that we could have been more specific in the way we described some of the scientific data”.
“We made a claim stating that ‘Oatly generates 73% less CO2e vs cows milk’,” he said.
“We should have been more specific and said ‘Oatly Barista Edition oat drink generates 73% less CO2e vs whole milk, calculated from grower to grocer.
“We’re a science-based company and take pride in being precise, but we could have been clearer. We talk about these things a lot because we want to make it easy for people to make an informed switch from dairy to oat drink.”