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The PR repercussions of banning Iceland’s Christmas ad

Only those living under a rock have not now heard about the plight of Iceland’s banned Rang-tan ad. What at first looked like a crisis for the supermarket has somewhat satisfyingly turned around in its favour this week – and it’s all thanks to the power of social media.

The evils of palm oil

For those who have somehow missed this story, Iceland this year offers us an alternative Christmas advert, which highlighted the plight of orangutans, whose forests are being destroyed to clear the way for palm oil – an ingredient used to make products such as shampoo and margarine.

Clearcast, the body responsible for clearing ads on behalf of the four major UK commercial broadcasters, said that it was unable to clear the ad because the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising prohibits the use of ‘advertisement[s]…inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature’.

Greenpeace controversy

The original animation was from a Greenpeace campaign, and had previously appeared on the charity’s website. The nature and validity of the contravention are perhaps less interesting than who the advert upset or could have upset, and how much money those who stock palm oil based products might have stood to lose by Iceland highlighting the impact of selling such products.

Each of the top four grocery retailers spends far more than Iceland on advertising with the top four broadcasters, whose representatives make up the Clearcast board of directors. They also, coincidentally, stock numerous products which include palm oil. However, none of them are getting anything like the attention that Iceland are getting this winter.

Social media fuel

Much like the forest-clearing machinery depicted in the banned advert, the rise and rise of social media continues raze convention, guidelines, laws (and attempts to ban things), without a care for those in its path. Following the ban, Iceland posted the ad on its YouTube channel, and within three days it had been seen by 3.2 million people. Other channels posting it to promote views on their own accounts have achieved a thousand views a day.

Hop over to Twitter, and the hashtag #NoPalmOilChristmas is showing no signs of abating. @rangtanforest, set up on the day the ban was announced, has grown been growing at a rate of 80 followers per hour for three days, and over the four days since it was posted, Iceland’s tweet asking for people to share a video of the advert has been retweeted every three seconds.

A huge Christmas hit

We are still weeks away from Christmas and, by the end of the shelved advert’s previously scheduled run, the number of people who will have seen it will surely surpass what it would have achieved on television – and at a fraction of the cost.

Assuming it runs a different ad in Rang-tan’s place or is able to recover some of the attributed spend, Iceland is going to have a great Christmas. By the time Clearcast has finished wiping egg off its face, Iceland will have reported record profits.

Written by Fred Hay, account executive at Uprise PR and Rampant PR

You can read more about the banning of the Iceland ad here

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