The Deconstructed Brief



Brand: Iceland Foods
Agency: Mother (Greenpeace)


It’s November, which means one thing: Christmas is here.

Maybe not, but the Christmas advertisements sure are.

Typical Christmas ads fall into one of two camps: touching or heartbreaking. Tradition dictates that they must be poignant and positive representations of the holiday season and its true meaning. The majority of campaigns aim to inspire viewers with a feel-good message, making the season of giving the perfect opportunity to highlight a brand’s social cause(s).

How can a brand address a serious issue amid a season of goodwill?

Key insight

Ban our Christmas campaign.

The idea:

The animation opens on a conflict between a young girl and an orangutan who has invaded her bedroom. The rhyming vocal overlay, voiced by actress Emma Thompson,  introduces the situation with the line, “There’s a rang-tan in my bedroom, and I don’t know what to do,” and continues by detailing the conflict between animal and human. Greenpeace introduces the reason for the invasion by flipping the rhyme: “There’s a human in my forest, and I don’t know what to do.” The following images of deforestation and destruction close on a message informing the viewer that Iceland Foods has committed to eliminating palm oil in all of its private-label products by 2019.

Iceland Foods intended the advertisement to increase shoppers’ understanding of rainforest destruction for palm oil production. The subtle underlying messaging in the spot encourages viewers to reconsider their purchasing habits surrounding everyday products, such as shampoo. The advertisement failed to secure advertising regulatory approval on the grounds that it was “seen to support a political issue” and was unable to be aired; however, it remains on the Iceland Foods YouTube channel — where it has been played over 4.5 million times — and on its Facebook page, where it has been viewed over 15 million times.

British advertising industry advisory body Clearcast spoke out against the backlash. According to managing director Chris Mundy, Greenpeace’s involvement in the project is the problem, not the content itself (as users claim). The advertisement violates the United Kingdom’s Code of Broadcast Advertising that states that political advertisements are not allowed on television. Greenpeace, the creator of the spot, could not prove that it was not a political advertiser in advance of the airing of the ad.

What they said:

“This year, we were keen to do something different with our much-anticipated Christmas advert,” said Richard Walker, managing director at Iceland Foods. “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.”

Lessons to be learned:

  • Banned =/= bad — Iceland Foods planned to spend over half a million pounds (approximately $600,000) on media to air the advertisement. This would have given the advertisement a significant number of views; however, nothing compared to the banned version. According to Adweek, it has been viewed more than 35 million times online, tripling the number of views of Iceland’s past Christmas advertisement.

    Social media outrage continues to fuel the fire — the video on Facebook has almost one million shares. Thousands of people have voiced their disagreement with the ban, including actors, authors, TV presenters and MPs. A petition to air the advertisement received over 940,000 online signatures, and numbers continue to grow. Within the first 24 hours, the ad was covered in five-minute clips on British TV and radio news more than 100 times, written up by 126 news outlets worldwide and featured in 31 UK print news articles, according to Mother.

    The catch? The broadcasting code broken by Iceland Foods comes as no surprise to the retailer. These are well-known public regulations. Clearcast is not a regulator and cannot “ban” ads — it's a business that clears ads on behalf of the UK’s four major commercial broadcasters. The Iceland ad submitted was originally a Greenpeace film, which has been appearing on the Greenpeace website for a number of months.

    “I would imagine Iceland would have expected that the ad would not be authorised for television advertising,” says Dr. Jake Bicknell from the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent.

  • Cartoon comeback — Animation, particularly adult animation, is experiencing a boom. Adult animated comedies — both originals and licensed series — are among the most-streamed series on platforms like Netflix and Hulu. A number of studios are bringing animation in-house: Netflix is launching its own studio to produce the new series it has planned for the coming year, and CBS TV Studios is launching production arm CBS Eye Animation. The decision to create an animated piece connects to consumers’ love of animation, which helps to draw them in and disarm them before addressing the volatile topic.

  • Stunt extensions — Iceland Foods came prepared with a plan B. After the ban of its advertisement, it made plans to unleash a life-sized animatronic orangutan on the streets of the UK. The orangutan, created by a team that has worked on films and TV shows, including “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock,” will first appear clinging to a Christmas tree in Coin Street, South London, before moving to other locations, including Oxford Street and several parks in the capital.

    It will then appear at a number of Iceland stores around the country, including Manchester and Birmingham, apparently “searching for a new home.” The replica orangutan will be controlled remotely and by a specialist puppeteer who has studied the ape’s movements.