Say hello to Rang-tan: An alliance of campaigning and brand marketing  

orangatangMy choice of a communication campaign is a Christmas television advert from UK supermarket chain ‘Iceland’ that features an animation linking rainforest destruction to palm oil products: Iceland Ad on YouTube

The advert was highly controversial; it wasn’t cleared for broadcasting (effectively, banned) yet secured millions of online views. The ban wasn’t due to the actual content of the advert but because Greenpeace, who produced the animation, is a political organisation, and the UK prohibits political advertising.

The ruling was widely criticised, generating significant social and traditional media interest. Celebrities and politicians alike spoke out in its favour and an online petition secured over a million signatures.[1] The controversy certainly seemed to benefit the campaign (some questioning whether Iceland predicted this chain of events). Iceland’s MD reported that this became ‘the most watched Christmas advert ever’,[2] with others acknowledging its ‘massive success.[3] Extensive media reporting surely meant that many consumers were reached who would never actively read Greenpeace material. Moreover, Iceland is a ‘budget’ supermarket; helping to drive the important message that sustainability isn’t just a choice for wealthy consumers who can afford to pay more for guilt-free products.

Onto the advert… To be applauded, there is clearly a business commitment behind the campaign; the removal of palm oil from Iceland’s own-brand products.[4] Although, the question of those products containing palm oil that they do continue to sell remains. At what point should companies be considered credible sustainability champions? On one hand, companies could always do more despite their best intentions; on the other hand, ‘green-washing’ is prevalent. You can’t judge a company’s commitment to sustainability through a single advertising campaign. Associations and partnerships with organisations, such as Greenpeace, are an important source of credibility, but with the plethora and complexity of sustainability issues, there are always questions of how they address other issues, not covered by public campaigns. This is why corporate reporting is so important.

The content of the advert itself was wonderfully emotive, alongside a clear and concise articulation of the issue. It seems to have captured each of Aristotle’s ‘rhetorical proofs’: ethos, pathos, logos. Somewhat ironically, the beauty of the advert is in part because it feels so completely un-political. Although the CISL reading recognises that the general public should not be treated as ‘one amorphous mass’; across cultures, ages and political persuasions, who could watch this advert and not conclude that palm oil is a bad thing?

But it turns out that the content was as controversial as the ban itself… Many other crops and activities are (more?) responsible for rainforest destruction[5] and many, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil argued that a commitment to use only responsibly-sourced palm oil would have been better than a ban.[6] Perhaps Iceland should have done more listening as part of its communication strategy. Sustainability issues are, by their nature, complicated, and it’s frustrating to see them being reduced to simple decisions and trade-offs in public campaigns. But, messages do have to be presented and packaged in a certain way to reach a wide and general audience. What’s the right balance?

Overall, I judge that the advert was successful in raising general awareness and understanding about a critically important issue. Whether it actually changed consumer behaviour we do not know. It also demonstrated to business that taking a risk in adopting an active and public position on a key sustainability challenge, complex as it is, can bring benefits.

A campaign alone however is not enough, and whilst recognising this important step forward, this fact should not be lost or forgotten in the midst of a great advert.






[6] and


5 thoughts on “Say hello to Rang-tan: An alliance of campaigning and brand marketing  

  1. Thanks for sharing this post, I really enjoyed reading it, and great choice of campaign to analyse. It certainly was an emotive advert and the “ban” definitely generated more interest than if it had simply aired on TV. It’s interesting to consider Iceland’s motivation behind partnering with Greenpeace on such a campaign. At a time when most retailers are trying to emotionally blackmail their customers in buying presents that will shape the future of their children’s lives (a la John Lewis), Iceland took a different tack to show their commitment to removing palm oil from their own products. Do we believe that the majority of Iceland’s customer base believe this to be a pivotal issue, or perhaps this is driven by a strong “intrapreneur” within the company itself?

    Either way, you cannot argue that it produces good results. Regardless of intentions, it succeeded in raising awareness about an important issue and provided a refreshing break from the usual consumerism-based adverts. However, I’m sure Iceland won’t be complaining about the 11% uplift in mince pie sales (the hero product from the advert). It’s also worth noting that “consideration of Iceland among consumers in the supermarket sector shot up 5.9 points to a score of 21.6 – the highest of any retailer on the YouGov BrandIndex. This placed Iceland ahead of Waitrose in terms of consideration.” [1]

    Overall, I’m a big fan of things that get people talking and thinking differently, and this helped to do that. Imagine how great it would be if next year, all the major retailers placed sustainability at the heart of their Christmas campaigns!


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  2. Ha! I remember seeing this video pop up on social media and at first thinking it was a banned ad from Iceland, the country. Then, of course, I wanted to know which of Sigurdur’s relatives was behind the video.

    I wonder if the ban was part of the project design. I mean, if Greenpeace produced the advert and they’re a political organization but the UK prohibits political adverts, as you’ve described, does it follow that all productions from political organizations are political adverts? Shouldn’t Iceland have known this much? If Greenpeace were to produce a short video with the message—this is not a political advert, would it still be a political advert? I would think not. But then what really makes an advert political?

    What a great dramatic twist that the content of the avert was as controversial as the ban itself. Yes, boycotting palm oil could mean more soybean vegetable oil, which requires more land [1]. I agree, Iceland probably should have done more listening. But as Adam pointed out, the video helped get people talking, thinking… and now at least I know to be mindful of things like decyl glucoside, lauryl glucoside, glycerin, cetearyl alcohol, ascobyl palmitate, retinyl palmitate, ethylhexylglycerin and glyceryl stearate.


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  3. Thanks for your post. Normally being Down Under we wouldn’t hear of Christmas marketing activity outside of those in our own back yard but thanks to the invention of social media we may be 24 hours flying time away from the UK but I think I was hearing / watching about this campaign as if I was in the UK. Both yourself and Adam have highlighted some of the issues with alternative crop sources and their impacts on the environment so I won’t go over this area again. My take away from this campaign and hence determining its effectiveness was the ability to spread a message in a rapid timeframe that was far greater than a usual marketing campaign would have been designed to do so. Whilst there have been many stories of ‘fake news’ in the media during 2018 social media is now a powerful communication mechanism and although a government regulator may issue a decision which stops the use of material if a single copy is already present on a social media it is almost the green light to give the message more energy than if the regulator had approved it. This must surely be part of a communications strategy where a small placement on social media at the early stage of a campaign can then allow for it to be become the major vehicle (or not, as is appropriate). It would be interesting if they will do a follow up piece around Easter as the use of palm oil is present in many Easter products and they certainly would have a receptive audience waiting to see the next available update (irrespective of the regulators position).


  4. I agree with you Lindsey that advertising campaigns have the effect of over simplifying complex issues. Iceland have committed a lot as an organisation to addressing sustainability issues in their products and operations, but you wouldn’t know with an advert such as this which focuses on just one issue like palm oil. That said I do think it bold of an organisation to effectively let its brand be represented by creative that has come from a third party – in this case Greenpeace. Having been party to creative conversations for campaigns I know this will have received challenges from across the business and will have taken a lot of time and commitment from the marketing leaders to achieve.

    I also think the campaign was effective and used the controversy to earn attention far above the value of the budget they might have spent to promote the ad, which is a difficult balance to strike and runs the risk of not quite hitting the mark. Controversial ads are of course a well trodden path and have been used by brands plenty of times to earn attention as they court controversy. It is a tactic that is losing its novelty value and over time will become more difficult to pull off. Iceland seemed to manage it though and like you I’m very glad that they are raising awareness of an important sustainability issue.

    Being a short run campaign though it does run the risk of losing authenticity. Like you say the brand commitment to removing unsustainable palm oil from products is important to add authenticity, but I haven’t seen or heard anything subsequently and feel that if a brand is to truly stand for a cause then it should be more single minded in its campaigning and more transparent in reporting on its own record. In recent years many companies have sought to adopt an issue or cause as part of their brand campaigns, but I would say that many if not most miss the mark and lack authenticity. Iceland should revisit this cause, but then they still have time, we are only a month since Christmas.


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