It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The festive period emerges overnight, with decorations, cards and chocolates filling the aisles that just 24 hours before had been filled with Halloween costumes and fireworks.

The digital transition is a little bit slower, but nothing gets the public talking quite like retail Christmas adverts. From the iconic Coca-Cola truck to John Lewis and its annual Christmas mascots (notably Monty the Penguin and Buster the Boxer), it seems the public adores and anticipates retailer Christmas adverts.

Frozen Food retailer Iceland, however, doesn’t look set to rival Mog the cat’s Christmas Calamity this year. The company has emerged as an agent for sustainable change over the last few years, with an ambitious target to eliminate plastic packaging from its own-brand food headlining the action.

Iceland has also pledged to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand food products by the end of 2018 and, in something that is entirely unusual for a retailer at Christmas, wants to use the festive period to spread the message.

As the retailer nears completion of the palm oil project, it’s planned Christmas advert “Rang-tan” has been “banned by advertising regulators”, according to the company.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said: “This year we were keen to do something different with our much-anticipated Christmas advert. The culmination of our palm oil project is offering our customers the choice of an orangutan friendly Christmas, and we wanted to reflect this in our advertising.”

Rang-tan switches out the playfulness of a cute critter invading a home that has been expertly used by retailers in past Christmas adverts to instead show the dramatic impact that palm oil can have on the natural environment.

Palm oil appears in more than 50% of all supermarket products, but the commodity is linked to environmental destruction in global supply chains. Expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where many species, including the orangutan, are being threatened with extinction.

The animated Rang-tan advert was originally created and used by Greenpeace earlier this year. An agreement was put in place that Iceland could use the video as part of its Christmas communications. Greenpeace claims that 25 orangutans are lost every day – largely due to their habitat being cleared for palm oil. edie reached out to Greenpeace for comment, but at the time of publication was yet to receive a response.

Iceland’s plans for an “orangutan friendly” Christmas has been disrupted by the ban, with the retailer claiming that more than £500,000 of media spend would have been committed to ensuring the advert was seen by consumers to raise awareness about the destructive impacts of palm oil.

Research suggests that many consumers are unaware of what palm oil is. But once informed about the product and its effects on the environment, 85% say they do not believe it should be used in food products, according to a recent consumer survey.

Iceland has invested £5m to enable the shift away from palm oil. Alternatives such as sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and butter will be used instead. Already in 2018, Iceland has brought out 100 new lines without palm oil, and this figure will increase to more than 200 by the start of 2019.

Advertising standards

Clearcast is the body responsible for clearing ads on behalf of the four major UK commercial broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Turner. The organisation assesses all ads against the Broadcast Code of Advertising Practice (BCAP) but is not a regulator and does not ban ads.

A Clearcast spokesperson explained to edie that the Rang-tan advert has not yet been able to comply with the BCAP code, citing “political rules”.

“Clearcast and the broadcasters have to date been unable to clear this Iceland ad because we are concerned that it doesn’t comply with the political rules of the BCAP code. The creative submitted to us is linked to another organisation who have not yet been able to demonstrate compliance in this area.”

The Communications Act 2003 prohibits political advertising. According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), political matters can refer to “an advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature” and “bringing about changes of the law in the whole or a part of the United Kingdom or elsewhere, or otherwise influencing the legislative process in any country or territory”, amongst other factors.

Despite the ban, Iceland is hoping that its digital presence will still draw consumers towards the advert in order to educate them on the matters of palm oil.

“Whilst our advert sadly never made it to TV screens, we are hopeful that consumers will take to social media to view the film, which raises awareness of an important global issue,” Walker added.

“Our commitment to help protect the home of orangutans remains extremely close to our hearts. We are proud to be encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices, even without the support of TV advertising, ahead of the Christmas shopping season.”

Matt Mace

Comments (2)

  1. Iain Whyte says:

    I don’t see a political overtone – but I see a message industry would lobby against. Watch the video, don’t buy palm oil. A wrong call by the ASA to my mind

  2. Jake Attwood-Harris says:

    This looks a lot like suppression of free speech. Is deforestation really a political issue? I thought Greenpeace was a registered charity, not a political party or lobbying group?

    I’m sure I’ve seen Prince Charles using sustainability to sell his biscuits, or Sainsburies talking about their sustainable fishing policy, or any of the middle class shops, whats the difference here?

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie