UK Supermarket Chain Forced to Rework Its Christmas Advertising Campaign

British supermarket chain Iceland’s Christmas advertising has been banned from television because its “overtly political” advert was deemed to have breached political advertising rules. Iceland’s marketing director, Neil Hayes, is now working on Plan B for the holiday season. Earlier this year, the discount supermarket chain announced plans to remove all palm oil products from its shelves by the end of 2018. It was under this backdrop that Iceland had planned to use an animated short film made by Greenpeace as its Christmas advertising campaign.

The film, called Rang-tan and starring the voice of actress Emma Thompson, is about the destruction of rainforests and the impact on endangered orangutans caused by palm oil production. The short film would have been perfectly fitting to raise awareness of the issue and what Iceland was doing about it. Hayes was determined to get Greenpeace on this project from the get-go. He made a deal with the organisation to reuse the animated short. even before the film was released by Greenpeace to the public.

It was a risky move. Greenpeace is classified as a political organisation and therefore, according to political advertising rules, it’s not allowed to advertise on TV. However, after conversations with Clearcast, the non-governmental regulatory organisation responsible for pre-approving British television advertising, Hayes was confident that “discussions” with the regulator were heading in the right direction and he would make it through. So, he forged ahead with plans.

“But as the weeks passed it became obvious that it was a more complicated issue for Clearcast and it has to abide by the guidelines that it works under”, said Hayes. “We received its decision very recently which has left us in the position where we had to change our media plan.”

After the ad was blocked Iceland opted to put it on YouTube, where now it has received over 3 million views. Whereas, the ad released by Greenpeace in 2017 drew around 100,000 views on its YouTube channel. The ban has now been the centre of media attention, with the backlash against the ban gaining momentum, with over 500,000 people signing a petition to get Clearcast to reconsider their judgment. It could even be argued that the backlash has been more beneficial, to Iceland’s marketing efforts than if it the ad has been approved.

In this regard, Hayes commented, “There’s some compensation to the fact that it’s gained a bit of momentum and people are watching it on social media. But I would still have loved to put it on primetime TV as our main ad.”

Clearcast has responded to the public backlash, noting they “have not banned the ad for being too political. We have no problem with the content or message in the ad”, however, the decision to block the ad was a “matter of broadcasting law”, citing Greenpeace’s involvement as the issue as they are considered a political advertiser.

The question is now how the in-house advertising team will revise its Christmas strategy at this late stage. Hayes noted they do have a handful of “conventional” ten-second ads focused on their products that are being reworked.

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