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Industry debates whether Iceland's palm oil TV ad should've run


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

November 15, 2018 | 9 min read

The Iceland Christmas ad campaign has the industry in a tizzy about whether or not the 'social good ad' should have been blocked from TV ad.

According to Chris Mundy, managing director of TV ad clearing house Clearcast, the work was banned because Iceland re-purposed a film from Greenpeace, which "needs to demonstrate it is not a political advertiser".

He explained Greenpeace is often misidentified as a charity, when in fact it is a non-profit global campaigning body, and as a result was never going to pass Clearcast's regulations in the first place. However, Neil Hayes, marketing director at Iceland confirmed this was no marketing ploy, with the campaign being discussed by the supermarket chain and Clearcast for a number of months.

Tubular Labs data said that the work had a similar impact to John Lewis' 2017 input, 15.2m views in a week compared to John Lewis' 16.3m.

The Drum spoke to three industry experts from JWT, Shelter UK and the Goody Agency -- also judges for The Drum Social Good Awards -- on advertising reform, charity advertising and whether or not they think the ad should have made it on air.

Should ads like the recent Iceland Christmas one be banned because of its supposed political agenda?

Juliet McLaren, senior creative, JWT

I don’t believe that the should be banned from TV, no.

We need truth more than ever, which I think this delivers on. Yes, palm oil is not the main driver of deforestation, but it’s a step in the right direction for the bigger message. Through fact the ad allows viewers the chance to make a more conscious choice.

It should not matter that the message originated from Greenpeace (where the whole problem lies), but rather that it is 100% respected and reflected by Iceland, the responsible airing party.

Helen Jones, creative director, Shelter UK

I don’t think the ad itself is the issue, it’s the fact that it was produced by Greenpeace that the Advertising Standards are objecting to, as they have been unable to prove they are not a 'political advertiser'

I don’t necessarily agree with that description, so personally I think the ad should have been allowed to run. But if an ad that has been produced by a political party or has a clear partisan message, is then repurposed by a brand, it would be a different matter and it would be appropriate for it to be banned. I think ads that raise awareness of important issues should absolutely be allowed to run, even if those issues ruffle the feathers of those in power.

Reuben Turner, creative partner, Good Agency

I think many of us struggle to see how being anti-palm oil is strictly ‘political’. We’re in a world where brands – not just charities – are tackling bigger issues, because people are more aware than ever. They want answers from the commercial world, because they hold the commercial world responsible, especially when it comes to environment destruction and climate breakdown.

Should there be an exception for charities? It must be hard to run ads for charities without getting political.

JM: I think so, which could come from understanding the difference between politics and fact. If a charity can substantiate their message with a proper claim, then they should be given a chance.

HJ: If charities want to make long term real change then they have to raise political issues. They need to challenge policies and encourage all parties to make positive, necessary changes to legislation. But charities mustn't align themselves with or promote a particular political party. We would never run an ad that had been produced by a political party or that carried a partisan message, but we should be allowed to criticise their policies.

RT: Most charities can’t afford the cost of being on TV unless there’s a financial return – that’s why most focus on fundraising or awareness (that leads to income) rather than making political points. But the rules are very clear, and Greenpeace can’t advertise on TV because they’re not a charity.

Have you had any trouble running charity ads?

JM: Just one which involved violence against women, we had to adapt some of the facts and statements so we weren’t ‘too honest and real’ in case it ever made it onto TV. Which it never did…

national centre for domestic violence

HJ: As creative director I always try to be aware of what lines shouldn't be crossed. We are always happy to tackle unfair policies and laws head on, but we always aim to remain non partisan with regards to political parties.

RT: We always make TV ads with Clearcast in mind, and all scripts are submitted for approval way in advance. But we have had an online film for RNIB banned from Facebook for being too hard-hitting and emotional. After a big campaign (in which it got loads of additional views) Facebook relented.

So it was to the charity’s advantage in many ways – thanks to the Barbara Streisand effect it probably got more views than it would have done without being banned.

What are your thoughts on the Iceland ad? Was it a cynical move?

JM: I saw it earlier this year when Greenpeace promoted it, with far less of a splash. I liked it then and I still like it now. It’s something that needs to be seen, we can’t keep looking away. While I don’t think it’s an overly cynical move, they must have had an idea it would be pulled from TV given its direct link to Greenpeace.

Iceland are beginning a conversation with people who wouldn’t usually give them second thought. Not long ago they had the worst rating for Palm Oil, so it’s good to see them acting fast to change that and talking (shouting?) about it.

As far as the agency is concerned, they will be reveling in the ‘ban’ – they have blown the snowy utopian veil off the Christmas race.

HJ: I think it’s a strange choice to simply run someone else’s ad and tag your name on to it. I’d have liked to have seen them do their own take on the issue. However, they have shown a real commitment to removing palm oil from their products since April this year, promising to remove it from 100% of their own range products without passing on the extra cost to the customer. So they are putting their money where their mouth is and I’d love to see other supermarkets follow suit.

RT: Iceland look like they were trying to get round the rules by rebadging a Greenpeace ad. I think that’s why Clearcast rejected it. If Iceland had made the same ad themselves, who knows? I do have some doubts as to how much advertising spend they’d really have put behind it if it was on TV.

So. Clever? Cynical? If it sells more palm-oil free products (and saves some orang utans) I don’t care. As the saying goes ‘if you want to draw a crowd, start a fight’.

Are the rules fit for purpose?

JM: The rules need a shake up. Away from my ad land bubble, a lot of friends (from all over the world) have been sharing the petition on their social channels and asking for it to be shown on TV. It’s young mothers and fathers that seek out this awareness for themselves and their families. It’s an important task that the networks need to align with. A fact is a fact, from a supermarket or from an NGO.

HJ: I think if Iceland had made their own ad about palm oil it wouldn’t have fallen foul of the rules. They were banned simply because it was originally a Greenpeace ad. So the real question is - should Greenpeace be regarded as a 'political advertiser’ not should brands be allowed to promote or align themselves with issues or causes.

RT: Greenpeace aren’t a charity, so they’re not allowed to advertise on TV. This looked like a cheeky attempt to get round the rules by rebadging their ad. That seems fairly simple from Clearcast’s point of view.

But the rules were created to hold brands to account who are advertising products, keep charity fundraising truthful, and stop political parties from advertising. The world doesn’t really look like that any more. The lines are much more blurred so we probably need a new definition.

The recent WWF film ‘fight for your world’ also tackles big environmental themes rather than just asking people to sponsor a tiger or give up using straws.

That’s because as a public, we want a bigger response from brands, and the regulators are going to have to deal with that.

Jones and Turner are judges for The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2018, for which the finalists have been revealed.

The ceremony will take place in London on 29 November at The Postal Museum, alongside The Drum Advertising Awards. Tickets for the show can be purchased now.

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