Iceland leaves 'orangutan' stranded in London to hammer home palm oil message

Orangutan takes to London

Iceland has doubled down on its palm oil monkey business with a PR stunt featuring an animatronic orangutan.

A part-man, part-robotic ape was abandoned in London and even scaled a Christmas tree to draw attention to Iceland's attempts to combat deforestation. Iceland's marketing director said the ape serves as a "potent symbol" to the plight of the animals displaced or killed by aggressive logging efforts.

The PR stunt in the midst of London's Coin Street looked to spotlight the damage caused by palm oil production to the habitats of endangered species in danger areas like South East Asia. It also highlighted the brand's efforts to reduce palm oil use in-store – particularly among its own brands. Notably, this is very much the start of the journey for the retailer with around 200 third-party brands stocked by Iceland still using it.

To build on the campaign's momentum, PR agency Taylor Herring once again enlisted sophisticated animatronics (having previously done so with a Westworld host for Now TV) to bring homeless orangutan Rang-tan from the 90-second animated ad to life. A special effects team reportedly spent months developing the animatronic replica orangutan that is controlled remotely by a puppeteer.

The stunt followed a clash with advertising clearing house Clearcast which restricted Iceland from running the Greenpeace creative featuring Rang-tan on TV. It said running the work on behalf of the body breached political advertising rules. Iceland then publicised this as a 'ban' to generate a wellspring of public support.

Chris Mundy, managing director of Clearcast, said the backlash and resulting petition to run the ad on TV was a "misunderstanding". Amid this, the work drummed up in excess of 50m views across YouTube and Facebook. Furthermore, it can run on video on demand services.

Iceland managing director Richard Walker said: “Our stranded, distressed orangutan is a stark and potent symbol of the effects of deforestation. We always try to give people a real choice about what they buy and this was a key driver of our decision to allow Iceland customers to join us in saying ‘no to palm oil’.

"I am immensely proud of the work our food development team has carried out to create this new Christmas range without palm oil – a celebration of our commitment to end its use before the year closes.”

Research claims that a rainforest area the size of 146 football pitches is cleared every hour to make way for palm oil production. These efforts kill a reported 25 orangutans a month.

Iceland marketing director Neil Hayes refutes claims that it was Iceland's intention all along to have the ad blocked and go big on that narrative. Instead, he outlined that the group had put down £500,000 on prime time TV spots before having to reclaim the money.

High-profile individuals like James Corden, Anna Friel and Paloma Faith have weight in with support to the wider campaign. It looks to mobilise the public around #NoPalmOilChristmas.

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