Why The Iceland Christmas Ad Should Be Banned (But Not Why You Think)

Posted in Digital, Green Spirit
on November 18, 2018

Too political? Personally I don’t think so. Misleading? Definitely.

For a number of reasons, I have spent the last year educating myself on how I can become a more ethical consumer. I’m also super passionate about cause marketing and how marketing can, and should, be used in an ethical way. So naturally I was upset when I found out the advert had been banned. However, the ban has only led to the advert, and subsequently Iceland, to become incredibly popular. Set to become the most popular Christmas advert of all time, it has been watched over 30 million times to date. In addition, more than 900,000 people have signed a petition to release the advert. The retailer has also seen a 5% increase in sales over the period since the advert was released.

However, after doing some research, I realised how misleading the advert actually is (spoiler alert; Iceland is one of the worst UK supermarkets for palm oil).

What is cause-based marketing?

Cause-based marketing is the process of marketing to raise awareness for a specific cause, rather than for commercial benefits. As you will see below, Greenpeace’s example is cause-based, whereas Iceland are using the important message for commercial purposes.


Is it just Greenpeace’s Palm Oil film?

By now you’ve probably seen the cute Christmas advert UK supermarket Iceland, in partnership with Greenpeace, have created which has been banned from television for being too political. The campaign displays the impact of palm oil production on orangutans and their habitat. Telling the story of a baby orangutan taking refuge in a child’s home due to the destruction of its own home by humans. While the advert is highlighting the important message of deforestation in order to harvest palm oil for the production of a huge range of products, it is also displaying Iceland’s promise to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand products.

The ad is actually a film, created by Greenpeace which has been featured on the Greenpeace site for several months.


Now watch Iceland’s banned TV ad:

With a fluffy character, emotive storyline and hard-hitting facts, it fits the criteria of the modern day Christmas adverts we are all used to seeing, with Iceland’s CEO claiming it ‘would’ve blown John Lewis out of the water’.


Why was the Iceland Christmas ad banned?

Clearcast, the body responsible for approving or rejecting adverts for broadcast on television said that Greenpeace and Iceland had ‘not yet been able to demonstrate compliance with legislation on political advertising’. There are some strict rules around broadcasting anything with a potentially political nature in the UK. A Clearcast spokeswoman told The Guardian; “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.” But is this advert really any different to one of a polar bear clinging to a small chunk of ice due to the ice caps melting? Or showing a child forced to drink dirty water due to poor sanitation? Both of which are major issues that also need to be addressed.

The specific rule broadcasters must consider is; ‘An advertisement contravenes the prohibition on political advertising if it is: An advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature’. 

As Greenpeace are considered to be a political organisation, and it is ultimately their film, the advertisement is falling foul of this rule.


Did Iceland know its Christmas ad would get banned?

Was this all really for publicity? Are Iceland secretly pleased the advert got banned from TV screens? Chances are they were aware of the implications of their campaign. Whether this was their intention or not, it’s certainly worked and in a much more cost effective way than if it was cleared for broadcast on TV. Would it have been viewed one million times on the day it was broadcast? Definitely not, and the impact of the ban only meant even more people were talking about and sharing it. Millions of eyes for a fraction of the cost.

This is the perfect example of self-regulation around digital advertising allowing more adverts to be served, as well as the will of the people to share it – as a stance against leading media institutions.


Iceland Christmas Advert TalkWalker

Online mentions and engagement in the immediate aftermath of the advert.
Credit: Talkwalker


Palm oil production is a very real issue

While this publicity is great for Iceland, it’s also important to remember the real message of the advert and capitalise on the recognition that it is rightly receiving at the moment. Habitat loss due to palm oil production is a real issue. Farming and producing palm oil is an incredibly efficient activity, providing a profit for companies which use it. But sadly, this relentless drive for profit and growth is always achieved at the expense of something else.


Why Iceland’s Christmas ad should be banned

The advert is highlighting the impact of deforestation due to palm oil farming and backs up the supermarket’s decision to remove palm oil from its own brand products. However, Iceland have not replaced palm oil with anything more environmentally friendly (rapeseed and vegetable oil) and are, therefore, not helping the environment at all. The advert is an emotional guilt trip, designed to make money and ensure you buy from them over other supermarket stores. So while Iceland’s environmental mission is a step in the right direction, they have a long way to go to ensure they are living up to their supposed values.

Let’s not forget that Iceland is a budget supermarket, a store with a business model that prides itself on cutting costs to bring consumers the lowest prices, which is exactly why we have got into this situation with palm oil.

It also doesn’t mean all products stocked by Iceland will be free from palm oil. You can still walk into the shop and pick up a Colgate toothpaste, Nestle chocolate and Oreo biscuits, brands who are among the worst palm oil offenders. Therefore, while Iceland are taking massive steps in the right direction, and the advert does state only their own brand products will be palm oil free, it could be misconstrued by some.

So while many comments read ‘you’ve just gained a new customer’, is this new customer fully aware? Had the campaign been run by a store that only stocks palm oil free or sustainable palm oil products, it would make a lot more sense.

Iceland Advert Comments

With consumers not aware of the full story despite it stating that it only applies to own brand products, I believe it constitutes misleading advertising. It communcicates an important message in a confusing way and, therefore, Iceland are not being fully transparent. According to the ASA, misleading advertising occurs when ‘a manufacturer’s use of confusing, misleading, or blatantly untrue statements when promoting a product’.


Instead what we need to be doing is supporting shops who are dedicated to the production of sustainable palm oil. Buying from companies who are using palm oil certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) means plantations are sticking to best practice and, therefore, areas of high conservation value are preserved and locals are supported.


Taking a digital approach

After the advert got banned on TV, Iceland turned to social media to share their advert. In a clever move, they took to their social media profiles to inform us that we won’t be seeing their Christmas ad on the TV this year, as it has been banned. They went on to ask followers if they would help to share Rang-tan’s story. Naturally, these shares were achieved in their thousands and users are still talking about both the advert and the effects of palm oil.


Iceland Advert Facebook


Iceland Advert Twitter


Not only was success seen on social media, searches on Google for ‘palm oil’ saw a big increase on the day the advert was first aired and has remained high since.

Consumer interest in palm oil after Iceland ad

Consumer interest in palm oil after Iceland ad


Iceland have revealed that they had spent £500,000 putting together the campaign and booking a number of prime TV slots. Personally, I am interested to see what they will do with the money they would have spent on TV advert time. They will, however, still be placing 10-second clip TV advertising that will highlight palm oil-free products.

So while this advert has taken great steps to highlight this very real problem, and gained incredible awareness for it, they are still endorsing and selling products that contain it. Instead, why not consider shopping from the below, who all use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil in their own brand products;

The Co-op





Whether Iceland have genuinely looked to raise awareness of this issue, or piggybacked on it for their own commercial gain, it’s undeniably a fantastic cause which you can help to fight here – Greenpeace Rang-Tan Campaign.


Useful Palm Oil Links;



– https://www.rspo.org/


Special thanks to Oli Hearsum

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