Image 1 - Controversial Ad Campaign Costs Climate Skeptics Group Partnerships
May 7, 2012

Controversial Ad Campaign Costs Climate Skeptics Group Partnerships

The fallout over the Heartland Institute's controversial, short-lived billboard campaign comparing climate change advocates with infamous terrorists, murderers and cult leaders continued over the weekend, as former partners moved to distance themselves from the skeptics' group.

According to Leo Hickman of the Guardian, British multinational alcoholic beverage company Diageo, a former supporter of the organization, announced that they would no longer provide funds to the thinktank.

A spokesperson with the company, which owns the Guinness, Smirnoff, and Johnnie Walker brands, told Hickman, "Diageo vigorously opposes climate skepticism and our actions are proof of this. Diageo's only association with the Heartland Institute was limited to a small contribution made two years ago specifically related to an excise tax issue. Diageo has no plans to work with the Heartland Institute in the future."

Likewise, the Guardian reported that Microsoft, which provides free software to all US-based non-profit organizations, regardless of ideology, said that the Heartland Institute "does not speak for Microsoft on climate change. In fact, the Heartland Institute's position on climate change is diametrically opposed to Microsoft's position. And we completely disagree with the group's inflammatory and distasteful advertising campaign."

The controversy began when the organization unveiled the first of a planned series of billboards which claimed that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren´t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” The first of the digital billboards featured Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, and featured the caption “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

Future billboards would have featured the likes of Charles Mason, Fidel Castro, Osama bin Laden, and James J. Lee, the man who took hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters two years ago. However, on Friday, the Chicago-based, conservative and libertarian think tank told the Washington Post that they were going to abandon the billboards, which were being used to promote an upcoming conference on climate change.

"This provocative billboard was always intended to be an experiment. And after just 24 hours the results are in: It got people´s attention,” Heartland Institute President and CEO Joseph Bast said in a May 4 statement. “This billboard was deliberately provocative, an attempt to turn the tables on the climate alarmists by using their own tactics but with the opposite message. We found it interesting that the ad seemed to evoke reactions more passionate than when leading alarmists compare climate realists to Nazis or declare they are imposing on our children a mass death sentence. We leave it to others to determine why that is so.”

“The Heartland Institute doesn´t often do ℠provocative´ communication. In fact, we´ve spent 15 years presenting the economic and scientific arguments that counter global warming alarmism,” he added. “Heartland has spent millions of dollars contributing to the real debate over climate change“¦ In return, we´ve been subjected to the most uncivil name-calling and disparagement you can possibly imagine from climate alarmists. The other side of the climate debate seems to be playing by different rules. This experiment produced further proof of that.”

“We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland´s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment. We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ℠realist´ message on the climate,” Bast concluded.

Earlier this week, Hickman dubbed it “quite possibly one of the most ill-judged poster campaigns in the history of ill-judged poster campaigns," while Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts, a new campaign recently launched to spread information on global warming and help meteorologists better understand and explain climate change science, told USA Today´s Wendy Koch that the billboard was “outrageous and disgusting.”