Climate Crisis and the Environment

Iceland Advert: Too Political or just Political enough?

Every year, as December 1st draws closer, we watch as various brands and stores battle it out with their Christmas adverts. Perhaps surprisingly, it was Iceland’s which was banned from broadcast this year, for being ‘too political’. Is this the case, and what does it say about advertising?

The advertisement is the result of Iceland’s collaboration with environmental NGO Greenpeace, who originally released the short film in August. The film was repackaged for Iceland, with the Greenpeace logo being removed, and speaks of the threat faced by animals and humans alike as a result of palm oil plantations.

“It’s certainly not your typical Christmas advertisement.”

Narrated by Emma Thompson, the advert tells the story of a young girl who asks an orangutan why it is living in her bedroom. The orangutan replies that her home has been destroyed by humans, so she came to live with the little girl instead. The narrative then switches to a harrowingly-animated sequence depicting aggressive deforestation and the capture of the orangutan’s mother by poachers. The narrative concludes with a dedication to the 25 orangutans lost each day, as well as Iceland’s pledge to remove palm oil from their label products.

It’s certainly not your typical Christmas advertisement. There is no snow, no twinkling lights, and no cheerful jingle. Instead, it echoes Iceland’s long-standing commitment to the environment, a cause championed by Managing Director Richard Walker, who is a member of Greenpeace. Walker has long supported such environmental campaigns, writing in April that Iceland wasn’t against palm oil, but against unsustainable practices that lead to habitat destruction and pollution. He stated that with “146 football pitches of rainforest” being razed each hour to meet palm oil demand, he couldn’t allow Iceland to be ‘complicit in rainforest destruction’.

“just a clever marketing stunt”

So why was the advert banned? After all, there have been plenty of politically or socially-charged adverts in the past which have made it onto our screens.

Clearcast, an NGO which regulates television advertising in the UK, blocked the ad because it was ‘too political’, which meant it violated rules about overly-political advertising on mainstream television. The content of the ad was not deemed to be the issue, but that it was made by Greenpeace. Chris Mundy, the Managing Director for Clearcast, wrote that the furore surrounding the ban is a ‘misunderstanding’, and that broadcasting law prevents advertisements made by bodies ‘whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature’. Mundy went on to state that Clearcast has no problem with the ‘important environmental points’ raised by the film.

” [it has] launched a valuable conversation into the harmful nature of unsustainable palm oil production”

Regardless of whether the ad made it onto TV or not, it has made waves online. Greenpeace were also unable to put the advert onto television, making some question if Iceland’s decision to use it is ‘just a clever marketing stunt’. James Corden was one of countless famous figures to support the ad, while a petition to have the advert released has reached almost one million signatures at the time of writing. While it is unlikely to appear on our screens, it has certainly launched a valuable conversation into the harmful nature of unsustainable palm oil production in countries like Indonesia, and its prevalence in everyday products such as shampoo.

Advertising rules state that adverts can’t be explicitly political, but this of course comes with questions of what is considered explicit? Subjectivity clearly comes into play here, but also the question of whether certain groups, like Greenpeace, should be prevented from reaching a wider audience as a result. Whether you agree that the message in the Rang-Tan ad is too extreme or not, there is no way of denying that it is a brave statement to make.

Perhaps we need more brands and stores to do the same, if it means being socially conscious even at Christmas…

Esme Johnson

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Featured image courtesy of Budi Nusyirwan via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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