E.On’s ‘It’s Time’ ad campaign: we’re ‘all’ just watching the world burn

The ‘bad’ of sustainability marketing: E.On are shifting their branding from oil and gas giant to sustainable energy provider — and shifting blame onto individuals too.

Tabitha Whiting
8 min readOct 16, 2023

E.On’s latest advertising campaign is titled ‘It’s time.’

It centres around a short video which depicts people going about their everyday lives whilst completely oblivious to the climate apocalypse of floods, fires, tornados, and ice cracks that surround them — even singing a tune with the lyrics ‘time is on our side’.

The message is clear: the climate crisis is here, we need to act, and E.On has the solutions to get us out of the mess that surrounds us.

Is this a genuine message of solidarity by a company changing its ways? Or another energy company greenwashing campaign?

Let’s break it down.

We’re all to blame for climate change

The main issue I have with E.On’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign is that it places individual people at blame for failing to act on climate change.

The entire narrative of the campaign is normal people, going about their lives, failing to pay attention to the impending doom of climate emergency descending upon them.

It’s the same narrative that the oil and gas industry has had for years — the most well-known example being BP (with the help of ad agency Ogilvy) deliberately popularising the idea of an individual carbon footprint to shift blame away from the fossil fuel industry.

The E.On campaign is no different.

It depicts a world where individuals are entirely naive to the climate crisis, and where businesses and governments have nothing to do with the inaction — they aren’t even present in the campaign.

Even worse, the people in the video are all preoccupied with their phones and laptops whilst fires and floods rage around them, as you can see here:

And here:

And here:

It tells us that we all care more about scrolling through the virtual worlds of TikTok and Instagram than we do about the deterioration of the real world that surrounds us.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s insulting.

And it’s especially insulting because it comes from a company that has been a major fossil fuel energy provider for decades. It comes from a company who is quite literally to blame for those fires, floods, ice melts — we’ll look more at E.On as a company later.

This narrative is even evident in the way E.On’s team talks about the It’s Time campaign in the media, suggesting it was absolutely deliberate.

Scott Somerville, UK Chief Marketing Officer at E.On, said of the campaign:

“Whether it’s governments, businesses or homeowners, there’s a huge amount of positive intention when it comes to sustainable energy, but rarely do any of us bring enough urgency to the situation.”

And Ross Newton, the Creative Director at the advertising agency who produced the campaign, House 337, said:

“It’s incredibly important that we all act on the climate crisis, but we didn’t want to use the same old shock tactics. Instead, we wanted to highlight the behaviour that we’re all guilty of.”

Interesting, eh.

There truly is nothing subtle about the energy industry’s avoidance of blame on climate change these days. 🤯

Inspiring panic and guilt, not action

Let’s also consider how the climate crisis is being depicted within the campaign.

Remember that Ross Newton, the Creative Director of ad agency House 337 who produced the campaign, stated: “we didn’t want to use the same old shock tactics”.

And yet what we see is an apocalyptic landscape of fires, melting ice, rising floods, and tornados.

Contrary to what Newton says, this does seem pretty much like the ‘same old’ story of doom and gloom.

There are two big reasons that this is entirely ineffective messaging for a sustainability-focused marketing campaign.

Firstly, whilst there’s no denying the truth of the picture — as we know all too well, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly regular and severe as a result of climate change, as are floods and wildfires — this kind of dark, apocalyptic view of the climate crisis does nothing to inspire change. Instead of motivating action, it inspires only feelings of panic, hopelessness, and guilt.

Secondly, even though climate impacts like these are becoming more and more visible in the media across the world as they increase in frequency, they can still feel like a faraway, abstract issue, rather than something that is impacting us closer to home. Pasting a background of climate impacts behind images of everyday life simply isn’t going to make an audience more likely to take action.

Sidenote: check out Climate Visuals for insights on what imagery has real impact in communicating climate, and an evidence-based photo library.

Didn’t you know? E.On has the solution to climate change!

Of course, despite trying to hide behind a charitable message, E.On’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign is just that: a marketing campaign. If it wasn’t good for the business, they wouldn’t do it — after all, that’s how fossil fuel companies got us into this mess in the first place.

The video ends with a ‘call to action’.

That might sound like a good thing, a call to arms as we all rise up against climate change. Not quite. In the world of marketing a call to action or CTA is the prompt at the end of a piece of advertising which asks the audience to take a desired action, like ‘read more on our blog’ or ‘get 10% off today using code CLIMATE’.

In this case, the final voiceover message of the campaign is: “E.On have the solutions to help us all live more sustainably” (note the ‘us all’ creeping up again), and the call to action is to go to E.On’s website and take a look at their sustainable energy offerings: renewable energy tariffs, heat pumps, solar panels, and EV chargers.

For the past few years, E.On have been gradually re-branding themselves from fossil fuel energy supplier to green energy supplier.

Now, from the messaging and content on their social media profiles, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon a small community energy organisation or a climate campaigning organisation.

Here’s a snapshot of the E.On Instagram bio, for instance.

And if you go to the It’s Time campaign page on the E.On website, it’s the same story:

What’s also striking on the webpage is the message of urgency: “… we all need to act. Not by 2030. Not by next year. Now.”

And that’s true of their Instagram content too:

It’s striking because underneath this recent sustainable re-brand, E.On has a long history of compromising the environment through their oil and gas activity — they even proudly share their history since 1923 on their website.

Not just the environment; they’ve compromised people too. Like the 4,700 people in the Nenet tribe of Siberia who have been displaced from their land and faced declining health due to pollution, to enable the construction of a huge pipeline to extract oil and gas, part-owned by E.On.

So that message that ‘we all need to act right now’? It’s pretty ironic.

You might be wondering if it’s possible that E.On have truly now changed their ways — and it’s a good question.

So, let’s take a closer look at those sustainable solutions that E.On offer.

First, renewable energy.

E.On claim to offer their customers 100% renewable energy.

They produce their own renewable energy from biomass, largely at two plants in Sheffield (Blackburn Meadows) and Lockerbie (Steven’‘s Croft). Biomass is only a sustainable source if the biomass being burnt for energy is a waste product.

It’s very difficult to find any information on the actual sources of wood in Sheffield and Lockerbie — the E.On website states they use ‘local waste wood only from British sources’ but no details are given on what this is, which makes it feel questionable.

The Blackburn Meadows biomass site in Sheffield.

The rest of the renewable claim is entirely down to REGOs. This means that E.On is buying certificates of origin from actual renewable energy producers, without actually adding any renewable energy to the overall supply — read more on this from Good Energy.

Next, the home energy products: heat pumps, solar panels, EV chargers.

These are all much needed to make our homes more energy efficient. But, the reality is that all of these home energy add ons are only efficient if our homes are already efficient — well-insulated with no leaks or draughts — and most UK homes simply aren’t. There needs to be much more focus on home retrofit and rolling out heat pumps and local energy networks at a systemic level before these are truly ‘solutions’ on a large scale — and the UK government is currently failing pretty hard at that.

But, in the meantime, it makes E.On look good if their marketing focuses on their shift to sustainability.

And that’s truly the crux of the matter.

Sustainability looks good today.

That’s why companies like E.On are making campaigns like ‘It’s Time’.

Because, contrary to the message of the video, people are very aware of the climate crisis and they care deeply about it.

Instead of people’s inaction, it’s companies like E.On that are more concerned about continuing to line their pockets with profits than preventing its impacts.

Because E.On remain the UK’s second biggest energy supplier, and their profits doubled in the first half of 2023, with UK sales of £12.6 billion.

And that kind of money would be game-changing for community energy organisations like the Low Carbon Hub in Oxford or Carbon Coop in Manchester who are actually doing the work to transform the UK’s energy system for the better.

So maybe It’s Time we focus our energy elsewhere.

This article was first published on the Communicating Climate Substack.



Tabitha Whiting

Exploring the good and the bad of climate change communication and sustainability marketing 🌱