Trending on Twitter: Did Iceland know their advert would be banned and should we care?

You won’t see Iceland’s famed Christmas advert on your TV screen this year but, if you have any form of social media, you surely know the devastating story of that cute little orangutan.

I had seen this same animation before on Facebook from Greenpeace and promptly signed their accompanying petition to ‘end dirty palm oil’. I was consequently surprised to see it getting such a resurgence on social media months later and wondered why more people had now decided to circulate the video. It is the word “banned” that is fuelling the intrigue and engagement.

I soon learned, Iceland has rebadged Greenpeace’s animation. The difference is that in the ending of the Iceland version it states, “Until all palm oil causes zero rainforest destruction, we’re removing palm oil form all our own label products”. Iceland’s video isn’t just getting more attention because it is a big-name brand highlighting a concerning issue, but because of consumers’ outrage that the advert has supposedly been “banned” from TV. I wonder then, how many disconcerted people signed the petition to remove the “ban”, but never signed the original directly about the use of dirty palm oil – the petition that really matters.

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Iceland claim they intended to use the animation as their Christmas advert to raise awareness of the issue of deforestation, following their commitment to become the first major UK supermarket to remove palm oil from all own-brand foods. But why did an advert with such an important message get rejected?

People on social media cannot understand how a message on deforestation can be deemed ‘too political’ to be aired, missing the point of why it has actually been rejected. The problem is not with the content, it is the association with Greenpeace. Clearcast, responsible for vetting ads, said Iceland was in breach of rules laid down by the 2003 Communications Act, by the advert being “inserted by or on behalf of a body who’s objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature”.

Clearcast is not a regulator and doesn’t have the capacity to ban ads like the Advertising Standards Authority does. It seems odd than that we have seen the emotive word “banned” branded on the video. I feel this discourse has had a huge impact in making the campaign go viral and notedly, the misused word has come from Iceland’s own tweet:

“You won’t see our Christmas advert on TV this year, because it was banned. But we want to share Rang-tan’s story with you this Christmas… Will you help us share the story?”.

The brand is cleverly urging our input for a greater cause, but we might question their motives. The campaign would never had got the same notice if it was merely aired on TV, but it is now on track to be the most popular Christmas advert on social media ever. Although they deny it, surely, someone from the brand or ad agency would know the ad had a high chance of being rejected. If they knew this was the case, perhaps they saw an opportunity for some cheap tactical marketing and don’t really care about the issue of palm oil at all.

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Should we be concerned that a brand is potentially exploiting the ethical consumer? The way Iceland has presented the ad as “banned”, fuels people’s feelings that the reality of sustainability issues are being side-lined by those with greatest authority. The 2018 Edelman Brand Study reported that the majority of people believe brands have more power to both address and solve social issues than the government has. Buying into a company is like casting a political vote, to the point where 64% of consumers worldwide will make a purchasing decision based on a brand’s social or political position. Of course, this means a brand will take this into strong consideration when choosing their marketing messages.

It is easy to question how strong Iceland’s sustainability concerns are, but the fact they are keeping their promise when it comes to palm oil, diminishes my worry of their impure motives. I don’t think it matters if their main concern is to make money from consumers – they are a business after all. At the end of the day, we should be happy about their positive impact.

The important thing is that Iceland is giving the consumer a choice; stopping the use of unsustainable palm oil should be a two-way thing between business and consumer. Iceland have supplied an alternative option, if we care, it’s up to us to choose it. We have to remember Iceland is ultimately a business and we needn’t scrutinise Iceland about their motives or criticise them for not going all the way. Let’s praise Iceland for taking a step in the right direction against deforestation.

Libby Gervais

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