By Bronte Stephens, Consultant, Consumer Packaged Goods and Better Impact

Unless you are comfortably dedicated to the sustainability cause, it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed by the inevitable whirlwind of doom and gloom statistics when the subject is broached. Last months’ UN report warning that we have as few as 12 years to stop irreversible damage to the earth is a prime example of this. These home truths in particular sent my head spinning:

There will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050

– Ellen McArthur Foundation

 Every area of London breaches global standards for PM2.5 pollution particles, with most areas exceeding levels by at least 50%

 – London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory

 Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, and the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction

– Rainforest Rescue

For the everyday individual, it’s common to feel too small to make a difference, too insignificant to have a voice and too overwhelmed to keep listening. And so, when a supermarket chain such as Iceland devises a way to cut through the noise an appeal to a broad, everyday consumer demographic and make them feel empowered to make a change, we should all applaud them right? Wrong, according to Clearcast, the advertisement vetting body spoiling our sustainable Christmas wishes.

The banned Iceland Rang-tan ad is the talk of the month. A major £500,000 campaign for the discount store, the ad was deemed to be in breach of political impartiality rules. Having removed palm oil, a major cause of deforestation, from its own brand products, Iceland aligned its business and sustainability objectives and packaged them up in a TV advert using a re-purposed 90 second Greenpeace cartoon. And it seemed to be an advertisers’ dream: major UK supermarket leading the pack championing a good cause, a brand delivering on pledges rather than simply ticking Corporate Social Responsibility off the list and marking it as ‘done and dusted’.

But then, to ‘protect the public’ from overtly political communications, a crucial message with the potential to reach millions of viewers was barred from TV. So where did it all go wrong?

In short, it didn’t go wrong. In fact, it went very right.

The target audience, primarily those who buy products containing palm oil without knowing the devastation, has well and truly been reached. Two weeks after being uploaded to the Iceland Youtube page, the advert has over 5.4 million views, countless pieces of earned coverage, a handful of celebrity endorsements and a million-signature strong petition to allow the ad onto TV screens is still garnering attention.

In a bid to stop the underlying political agenda becoming the talk of the town, Clearcast has ensured that, well, it has become the talk of the town. Sure, there has been the inevitable article or two contesting that Iceland has no right to piggyback on Greenpeace’s video, especially given its high levels of palm oil use to date (which admittedly does leave a lot to be desired). But the simple, undeniable fact is that although Iceland has a long way to go and is by no means a perfect sustainably bent brand, it is actively DOING SOMETHING. And this is the lesson other brands can heed, because consumers are positively responding to #NoPalmOilChristmas.

Pair the banned Christmas advertisement with some savvy PR and the Iceland campaign is hitting more high notes than Elton John at his swanky John Lewis piano.

But it’s not just brands that can learn a thing or too. If Iceland has taught communicators anything within the sustainability space, it’s these three things:

  1. Identify an issue your client has the right to hero

When a brand identifies and issue it has a right to hero and champion based on its values, consumers will give their ears and eyes. Yes, Iceland has a poor track record with palm oil, but this also places it in a good position to make a bold, applauded change through definitive action. Removing palm oil from all its home brand products was transparent, achievable, and in line with Iceland’s evolving brand values.

  1. It’s not about adapting all elements of a business to a sustainable model in one go

Sure, Iceland is removing palm oil from its home brand products, yet it still has some rather serious sustainability issues – plastic use and waste to name a few. The key thing here is to understand that this is OK. In the same way individuals can get overwhelmed by the big S-word, so too can big bolshy brands. Changing everything all at once is rarely a viable option, it’s ok to celebrate and champion small changes – and then push for them to become part of a wider sustainability plan.

  1. Pinpoint a key moment on the calendar and make the magic happen

Come November, all eyes turn to the highly anticipated Christmas advert. Iceland planned and timed their announcement perfectly – and it paid off in droves. Always keep an eye out for key moments in time. Sustainably minded world days are a good place to start.


The movement towards creating a more sustainable brand identity for our clients doesn’t have to be overwhelming – just carefully thought-out.

And as for TV land? It looks like we’ll have to settle for Kevin the Carrot and rotting parsnips…at least for this Christmas anyway.

(Photo Credit: Antara Foto/Reuters)

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