Why Mum’s been hoodwinked by Iceland

Yes, the Iceland ‘banned’ advert has given a huge positive boost to the brand, but do the facts it wasn’t banned, wasn’t produced or paid for by Iceland and that they still stock 200+ palm oil products have a lasting significance for brand communications?

The Greenpeace film has been on their website since early August, which is why it can’t just be repurposed as a TVC. It was never banned.

Let me make myself clear at the outset, I actually love the “Rang-tan” film used by Iceland for its Christmas campaign. I think the rallying cry to make a difference is perfect, and yes it simplifies a very complicated issue, but it’s an awareness driver not an educational film. It makes people interested and urges them to find out more.

Having said all of that, I actually think it’s an example of brand smoke and mirrors that could be damaging to the reputation of communications in the future.

First of all, the film was produced and paid for by Greenpeace ages ago. It’s been on their website since August with Iceland nowhere to be seen. I’m a big Greenpeace fan, but they are a political organisation, and rightly so, political organisations can’t just pay for ad space willy-nilly. Otherwise we might have pro-Brexit ads paid for by JD Sports. This all means that the advert wasn’t ‘banned’ because of its content — it wasn’t ‘too political’ as the press release said. If Iceland had wanted to support this agenda they are technically fine to create an advert with this message and nature of content. What they are not allowed to do is use their marketing budget to promote a political organisation.

Secondly — Iceland still stocks over 200 products containing palm oil (according to the latest figures). They are not sacrificing their sales for this cause. Yes, they are pledging to remove palm oil from their own products, but they are not going cold turkey this Christmas. In my opinion, if you’re going to own a cause, own it with some passion.

Thirdly (and finally) — why didn’t Iceland produce their own ad? They could have been inspired by Greenpeace and even consulted them on the complicated topic of palm oil, rather than repurposing an existing film they already knew fell foul of (the difficult to argue with) regulation around political organisations advertising.

It’s a cynical view that they did this just for the public outrage, knowing full well it couldn’t make it on air, but if that’s the case, what kind of legacy does that have for marketers? Although no doubt happy for the exposure, how does Greenpeace really feel about being used like that? Will we start to see more brands deliberately pushing their outrage bandwagons down the hill and watching them roll? I hope not.


UPDATE 25 Jan 2019: The BBC today published an article confirming that in some cases Iceland had removed their logo, rather than palm oil, from their products in order to progress towards their goal of no palm oil in their own-brand range: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-46984349

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