Controversial Iceland ad did more good than harm

Aoibhín Bryant

The controversial ad for Iceland that was allegedly banned for being too political.

A few weeks ago, uproar was caused after the frozen food supermarket, Iceland, dropped their Christmas advert on Facebook and other social media platforms. Note, dropped online, not on television. This is because the organisation that gives the greenlight to most television advertisements, Clearcast, banned the ad because its creator, Greenpeace, is “too political”.

An animated short from the non-governmental organisation, Greenpeace, which campaigns for environmental issues, the cartoon features a cute baby orangutan, called Rang-tan, who tells a young girl (voiced by Emma Thompson) about the damage deforestation has done to her home, the rainforest. The reason for the man-made forest fires is to make way for more land to harvest palm oil. It ends with Iceland announcing that they will not have palm oil in their range of Christmas products.

The advertisement is moving and sheds light on an issue that not many people know about, the environmental consequences of extracting palm oil, which is in so many day-to-day products – from food to shampoo. However, the message might not have gotten across as well if the advertisement wasn’t banned. In a world where online dominates, television doesn’t have the same authority and influence anymore. Around 47 per cent of people aged 22 to 45 are not watching television on its traditional platform anymore, according to a study by Omnicom Media Group agency, Hearts & Science.

Not only that, but now Iceland’s advertisement has been slapped with the controversial “banned” label, immediately attracting gratuitous attention from both the public and the media. Many commented that it was outrageous that the advertisement was banned on political grounds while recruitment ads for the UK military are still aired.  Iceland were able to take the role of the victim and by posting it on their social media, they defied being censored. Because the advertisement was banned, it made it more appealing to watch, feeling like you were rebelling against authority. If anything, being barred from television airwaves almost allowed it to gain more traction.

The cynics cry that this is merely a PR stunt by Iceland, trying to get into the public’s good books as a progressive and socially aware company. Although, it’s true  that many corporates try to use the revolutionary image as a way to entice customers. Many clothing retailers’ advertisement campaigns feature female models with hairy armpits or LGBT+ couples with motivational words of be “be bold” written across the screen. All the while, the clothes are still made by someone in a sweatshop somewhere in the developing world, quite the opposite of progressive. Last year, Pepsi found itself landed in controversy when their ad focused on a protest and was slammed for treating social action as cool or trendy.

Although, Iceland’s ad campaign seems different from that.  Yes, the end goal was probably money because it is an advertisement, not a public service broadcast. However, this ad is doing more good than harm. It’s brought awareness to the destructiveness of palm oil extraction to our ecosystems, how the fires in rainforests have contributed greatly to greenhouse gas emissions. The effect it has had on the natural wildlife of the rainforest, including the cute orangutan, which is predicted to be extinct from the wild in less than 10 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Palm oil is so prevalent in products, it’s about time we scan the ingredients before dumping them in the shopping cart. Iceland’s ad has made people more aware, money-hungry or not. Being banned just let it widen its scope even further, without having to pay broadcasters to feature their ad.

Aoibhín Bryant

Image credit: Plantbasednews