By Henry Bird
Around this time of year, we find ourselves eager to have our heart-strings tugged at the sight of a warm fuzzy penguin playing its grandmother’s piano while looking up at a man on the moon as Lily Allen softly serenades us. Popular retailers such as John Lewis, Sainsburys and Waitrose have made it their mission to appeal to our love of wholesome Christmas nostalgia, and I for one am lapping it up. However, this year Iceland decided to put forward a different kind of offering.
In their advert, there is barely any mention of Christmas. Instead, their offering is a short animated film depicting a baby orangutan, who has strangely taken refuge in a little girl’s bedroom. We quickly discover why, as in a series of harrowing shots, bulldozers raze rainforests, destroying the orangutan’s home and killing its mother, all to cultivate palm oil for supermarket products. The film concludes with Iceland declaring that they will not use palm oil in any of their own-brand items by the end of 2018. However, you will only be able to watch this advert on YouTube, as it was not approved by Clearcast, an advisory body who received a colossal backlash on social media in response to their decision.
Recently, a number of controversial adverts have made it to air, such as Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi campaign that made a mockery of racial discrimination, and Colin Kaepernick’s powerful Nike film that explored issues of racial inequality. Does it not seem strange that this advert advocating the protection of the natural world did not, especially considering the WWF found great success with their recent Christmas campaigns that highlighted issues of trophy hunting and illegal wildlife trading?
It is worth noting at this point that Iceland’s advert was not banned. Adverts can only be banned by ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), and in this case, it was Clearcast, an advisory body, who simply advised Iceland that their advert would legally not make it past ASA due to rules restricting political advertising. While Iceland have been careful not to address the situation as a ‘ban’, it is this word which has been circulated widely, and led to the public flocking to YouTube to find this source of controversy.
Cynics cried that this is in fact all part of Iceland’s marketing strategy, as now they not only have the public’s support, but also have people questioning why this advert was deemed ‘political’ at all? Has the ‘ban’ in fact, as the Guardian’s Jessica Brown argues, ‘prevented a crucial message being broadcast’?
The issue is not the message about palm oil itself, but the origins of the film, which was originally part of a campaign by Greenpeace to raise awareness of the harm of the palm oil industry. Iceland asked permission to use the film, took away all Greenpeace branding, and made it their own. It is the associations with Greenpeace that meant it could not be broadcast, as Greenpeace lobbies globally for political change with regard to the environment, and has been accused by early members as being ‘motivated by politics rather than science.’
Arguably, there is good reason for Iceland’s advert not making it to air. If any corporation can take a short film, strip it of its original labelling, and call it their own, what is to stop films that convey distinct political ideologies being used to sell a product, yet also reminding viewers of its actual origins? One can see why being cautious could have been the wise decision in this case.
Nevertheless, by deeming Greenpeace too political, the messages they advocate become political issues too. Their website says they ‘defend the natural world…investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse, and championing solutions’. In this context, one can afford to discount the controversy that Greenpeace has caused with regard to hypocrisy on certain issues and focus on the message. Surely defending the natural world should not be a political matter, but one of utmost importance to everyone?
Of course there are political consequences if say a government chooses to prioritise the environment over any other sector, but ignoring long-term environmental issues is not politically beneficial to any party. Imagine the more immediate things to worry about-flooding from rising sea-levels, toxic ocean acidification, deadly weather events, to name a few.
Iceland’s advertising campaign, whether clever marketing ploy or genuine call for action, whether unjustly robbed of airtime or rightly bound to YouTube, has undoubtedly left an impression on the British public. Whether we respond to its harrowing message and take heed of its warnings, is up to us.
Photographs: Joe Pepler/PinPep and AK Rockefeller via Flickr