Public outcry brings Iceland ad in from the cold

by Nigel Hollis | November 19, 2018

Kantar Millward Brown’s digital pre-testing finds that a strong emotional response means a digital video is five times more likely to go viral. So perhaps it is not surprising that after being banned from the airwaves, Iceland’s moving Christmas ad about a young orangutan made homeless by deforestation has gone viral online.

You can view the banned ad here. As this BBC article notes, the reason the ad was banned is not to do with the subject matter, but the originator of the video. It turns out the video was created by Greenpeace to decry deforestation to make way for palm oil production and publicize a petition telling big brands to stop using palm oil. Iceland sought permission to reuse the video – without reference to Greenpeace – in order to publicise the removal of palm oil from its own label products. Unfortunately, Clearcast, the UK body which approves ads for TV, designates Greenpeace as a political organization.

If that seems a little confusing, apparently, “political” is defined as follows,

“The term "political" is used in the Code in a wider sense than "party political". The prohibition includes, for example, campaigning for the purposes of influencing legislation or executive action by local or national (including foreign) governments.”

Applying this definition to a campaign clearly aimed at changing corporate behaviour seems misguided to me but, unfortunately, that is not my call.


What I can say is that the video has now reached millions of people online. One day after the BBC article was published views of the video on Iceland’s YouTube channel had increased by 25 percent to over 4 million, never mind the views on other platforms. The publicity has prompted nearly 975,000 people to sign a petition to "release Iceland's banned Christmas advert on TV". And, closer to home, I have seen a rash of anti-palm oil posts on Facebook over the last few days.

While there is some debate as to whether the ad has technically been banned, Clearcast simply judges whether an ad would breach the rules, the effect is the same, and the ban has been a boon to both Iceland and Greenpeace. Views on Greenpeace International’s original posting on YouTube numbers 372,000 at the time of writing, so the association with Iceland and the outcry over the ban have allowed the video to reach a far wider audience than it would have done otherwise.

While I have no doubt that pundits will use this example to point to the power of social media, what it really proves is that people are still willing to engage with advertising that speaks to issues they care about. Emotion drives action, not just the media channel. I have little doubt that if the ad did make it to TV it would have even more influence. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts. 

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