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There are good reasons why Iceland’s anti-palm oil ad should be seen at Christmas

Its political associations with Greenpeace meant the advert breached advertising standards, but can an attempt to save the environment be considered “political”?

By Dorothy Musariri

We won’t be seeing Iceland’s Christmas advert on our TV screens this year after it was banned for breaching political ad rules, but it has been launched on YouTube anyway to help “raise awareness”.

The minute-and-a-half, animated advert was originally made by Greenpeace and focused on the impact of palm oil on the environment.

The beginning features a young girl who says: “there’s an orangutan in my bedroom and I don’t know what to do”. The second part goes on to shows an orangutan in a rainforest which is being dug up, with a voice over, saying “there is a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do. He took my mother and I’m scared he will take me too”.

It ends with trees being brutally destroyed by humans burning forests for palm oil, and a dedication to all the 25 orangutans killed every day, with Iceland claiming it is working on removing all palm oil from its own-label food products from their stores by the end of 2018.

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Advertising organisation Clearcast, which was responsible for vetting the ad, said it couldn’t clear it to go on-air because of the political associations with Greenpeace.

Clearcast made the same call in April last year over a Pepsi ad featuring model Kendall Jenner stepping away from a modelling shoot to join a crowd of demonstrators. It sparked social media controversy for appearing to belittle protests aimed at addressing social justice causes. 

Some might argue that this is not like other political ads – considering it’s an attempt to save the environment. 

Nick Hayes, marketing director at Iceland, has said it would have raised awareness among Christmas shoppers. And he’s not wrong. Although it did breach advertising standards, there are still a lot of reasons why it should be exempt. Not least due to the scale of the environmental challenges facing the planet. 

It is also pretty arguable that the destruction of the planet isn’t a typical partisan issue. As we shouldn’t need reminding, man-made climate change caused by human activity is accepted by more than 95 per cent of the world’s scientists, and both deforestation and the use of palm oil for fuel are major contributors. 

The ad is, of course, not quite in tune with the normal tone of ads aimed at Christmas shoppers. The warm, fuzzy and excited touchpoints associated with the festive season are not really present. But perhaps a public service announcement about something that’s responsible for the destruction of natural habitats, and increasing our greenhouse emissions, isn’t such an awful idea if it shakes us out of that comfortable glow.