Climate Change and Digital Advertising

The Oil and Gas Industry's Digital Advertising Strategy

August 2021

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Despite Facebook's public support for climate action, it continues to allow its platform to be used to spread fossil fuel propaganda.

Not only is Facebook inadequately enforcing its existing advertising policies, it's clear that these policies are not keeping pace with the critical need for urgent climate action.

If Facebook is serious about its climate commitments, it needs to rethink whether it's willing to keep taking the money of fossil fuel companies.

Bill Weihl, ClimateVoice Founder & former Director of Sustainability at Facebook

Based on a robust scientific methodology, this study shows how fossil fuel interests manipulate individuals using sophisticated social media strategies.

Their ads play on existing community values to build support for the continuation of a carbon intensive economy, contradicting the supposed commitment of these firms to address the climate crisis.

Climate advocates need to understand and work to counter these campaigns. InfluenceMap has provided a vital window into the propaganda efforts of fossil fuel interests.

Dr. Robert J. Brulle, Visiting Professor of Environment and Society at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES), Brown University

Introduction

Evidence shows that in the past, major oil and gas companies have both directly and indirectly denied or cast significant doubt on the science of climate change. The purpose of denying climate change has been to prevent the implementation of regulation that would limit or mitigate climate change as such regulation would have reduced the demand for fossil fuels, including oil and gas. With increasing scrutiny from investors, regulators and the public, however, outright denial has increasingly become an unviable tactic for these major companies. In its place, oil and gas companies have developed an increasingly nuanced and subtle set of messaging techniques, often utilizing elements of the science on climate change in misleading ways.

Many of these messages are used on Facebook and social media platforms, a new frontier and tool for influencing the debate around climate. With a wealth of information on its 2.85 billion monthly active users, Facebook presents advertisers with unparalleled opportunities to promote their message in a highly targeted and effective manner.

New research from InfluenceMap reveals the latest iteration of the oil and gas industry’s playbook on climate change. The research shows the oil and gas industry is now using social media as a key avenue for advertising, posting thousands of social issue, election, and political ads every year which are designed to prolong the use of oil and gas in the energy mix.

Recommendations

This research faced limitations due to the lack of transparency from social media platforms. It is vital that these platforms, which wield significant power over the political landscape, are transparent on how their platforms are being used to influence the debate on climate change. This will allow for greater accountability for the platforms themselves and the organizations that use them. This research can be used to push these social media giants to be more transparent about the advertising on climate change which they allow on their platforms.

This research speaks to the oil and gas industry’s sustained campaign, which runs counter to the needed solutions to climate change as stated by the IPCC, the UN’s climate science body. The results may be used by investors, policy makers and civil society groups concerned with ensuring the fossil fuel sector is aligned with climate solutions as recommended by the science-based findings from the IPCC, the IEA and others.

Overview of Results

This research found 25,147 ads from just 25 oil and gas sector organizations on Facebook’s US platforms in 2020, which have been seen over 431 million times. This indicates the industry is now using social media to directly reach a vast audience and influence public opinions on climate change and the energy mix. These ads had a spend of $9,597,376.

The ads promoted either the climate-friendliness of the industry, including voluntary targets, investments into renewables, and promoting fossil gas as green, or promoted an ongoing role for oil and gas in the energy mix. Crucially, many of these ads either contained misleading content or present information that was misaligned from the science of climate change according to both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s and the International Energy Agency’s reports on reaching net zero by 2050.

The Prominence of Narratives in Oil & Gas Sector Advertising

The oil and gas sector is using a range of narratives to promote itself as part of the solution on climate change and promote the ongoing use of oil and gas in the energy mix. A breakdown of the different messaging categories and their frequency can be found below


Categories

Explanation

Number of ads (and percentage of sample), Spend, Impression*

Examples of key narratives

Community & Economy

Includes narratives about the role of the oil and gas industry in local communities and the broader economy.

Number (%): 5542 (22%)

Spend: $2,575,779

Impressions: 134,626,737

Entity/Industry helps the economy

Entity/Industry provides jobs

Entity/Industry helps community through philanthropic efforts

Climate Solutions

Includes narratives promoting the ‘green/clean’ climate efforts of the industry and is designed to capture narratives suggesting the oil and gas industry is ‘part of the solution’ on climate change.

Number (%): 12140 (48%)

Spend: $1,893,080

Impressions: 122,248,437

Entity/Industry supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Entity/Industry supporting transitioning the energy mix

Entity/Industry supports the use of gas as, a clean/green/low-carbon energy source or a climate solution.

Pragmatic Energy Mix

Includes narratives which promote the benefits of oil and gas as energy sources to the functioning of people’s everyday lives.

Number (%): 7749 (31%)

Spend: $4,354,825

Impressions: 174,545,645

Oil & gas are affordable

Oil & gas are reliable

Other narratives promoting the benefits and/or uses of using oil and gas

Patriotic Energy Mix

Includes narratives tying the production of domestic oil and gas to energy independence and energy leadership for the US.

Number (%): 2904 (12%)

Spend: $1,482,998

Impressions: 55,474,052

Energy Independence

Energy Leadership

Distribution of Ads over Time

The research also shows the industry is using social media strategically and deploying its ads at key political moments. Tracking the timeline of the ads covered in this research shows a jump in ad spend the day after now President Biden announced his $2 trillion climate plan. This momentum was sustained until the US Presidential Election when Facebook then banned political advertising.

Daily spend on Facebook ads in the US, from all fossil fuel groups analyzed (7-day rolling average)

Facebook’s Advertising Policy

Despite its own commitment to mitigate climate change, Facebook continues to receive millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry every year to post ads. For the 25,147 social issue, election and political ads covered in this research, Facebook received $9,597,376. While continuing to accept this money, the research also found Facebook has not been consistently applying its own advertising policies regarding climate change ads. As such, the real revenue Facebook receives from the oil and gas sector is likely to be significantly higher when accounting for the entire industry and the true number of climate change ads posted.

Mixed Messaging

This research found different entities fulfil different messaging roles. Companies, and ExxonMobil in particular, are focusing on ‘Pragmatic Energy Mix’ narratives, the American Petroleum Institute is posting thousands of ads on the climate-friendliness of the industry and the role of fossil gas as a climate solution, while advocacy groups are successfully using ‘Community Economy’ arguments to lobbying against specific regulatory measures.

Corporations ($6M)

Industry associations ($3M)

Advocacy groups ($813K)

Demographic Distribution

Looking at how these ads are distributed amongst the US population it is clear more males than females overall are being shown these ads. There were, however, notable differences amongst the categories of messaging. ‘Climate Solutions’ narratives were the only category of messaging shown to more females than males, while ‘Pragmatic Energy Mix’ narratives are shown more to older age groups.

Impressions by age and gender demographic

Regional Distribution of Oil and Gas Sector Advertising

In line with the strategic deployment of ads, the geographic distribution of the ads shows that the ads most targeted states with high levels of oil and gas production, such as Texas and New Mexico, and swing states, including Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio. States with specific policy battles affecting the oil and gas sector in 2020, such as Alaska, also sustained significant advertising campaigns.

Top 15 states by ad impressions

The Advertisers

InfluenceMap used data from 25 advertisers, covering the 10 companies and 5 industry associations from the oil and gas sector with the highest spend on social issues, electoral, and political ads in 2020 on Facebook's US platform. The research also included 10 advocacy groups, all with a spend of over $5000 in 2020, that have reported ties to oil and gas companies and industry associations.


Type Entity (with links to InfluenceMap profiles where applicable) Spend on Social issue, Election, and Politics Ads in 2020
Corporation ExxonMobil $5,040,642
Industry Association American Petroleum Institute $2,965,254
Advocacy Group OneAlaska $329,684
Corporation The Williams Companies $252,977
Industry Association Texas Oil & Gas Association $160,511
Corporation ConocoPhillips (including Power in Cooperation) $76,938
Advocacy Group Partnership for Energy Progress $75,691
Corporation Enbridge $64,345
Advocacy Group Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development $57,983
Corporation Energy Transfer $56,805
Advocacy Group Texans for Natural Gas $53,353
Advocacy Group Great Lakes. Michigan Jobs $53,145
Corporation Wink to Webster Pipeline LLC (Joint Venture between ExxonMobil and additional corporations) $53,027
Corporation BP $51,652
Industry Association New Mexico Oil and Gas Association $41,614
Advocacy Group Californians for Energy Independence $29,457
Industry Association American Gas Association $22,248
Advocacy Group Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy $13,693
Advocacy Group Alliance for Michigan Power $11,528
Corporation Noble Energy (acquired by Chevron in Oct 2020) $10,485
Advocacy Group American Energy Alliance $8,396
Corporation Island Energy Services (including Hoala) $7,042
Corporation Phillips 66 $5,248