Surely Iceland Have Had Worse Adverts?


I’m specifically talking about Kerry Katona or Peter Andre with a prawn ring having a fake happy Christmas party here….

Iceland’s orangutan commercial for this festive season has widely been reported as being ‘banned’ – not quite strictly the case, but it was blocked due to its political backing. So, when it comes to advertising and campaigns, can politically-charged messaging work?

What’s the deal with this advert? If you’ve not already seen it – check it out. Emma Thompson’s dulcet narration and the clever analogy that would help explain a complex issue like palm oil’s environmental impact is powerful right?

Perhaps Iceland could not have wished for a better reaction to their now-widely shared Christmas advert, further underlining their brand positioning on green issues, something it’s pushed throughout 2018.

Of all the adverts being talked about this year, it’s far surpassed the usual John-Lewis excitement with media coverage of the “ban” in The Guardian, the BBC as well as The New York Times along with plenty of positive social media outrage and online petitioning (the Independent report signatures are over 680k already….well, we love a good rant don’t we?!).

The ad ends with a tribute to “the 25 orangutans we lose every day” and indeed some 100,000 orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999 due to deforestation and palm oil production is partly to blame. However, as WIRED reports, it’s not quite that straightforward.

Greenpeace actually made the advert several months ago and teamed up with Iceland who would potentially push it on TV and get a far bigger reach using it for its Christmas campaign. It was in fact Clearcast, who clears adverts on behalf of the UK’s four major commercial broadcasters, who stopped the advert based on the broadcasting code and in this case due to it being political in nature.

These well-known rules then always meant the ad would fall-foul, however the resulting wide spread engagement has perhaps been more successful than if it did launch as per every other TV campaign this year.

According to campaign group Ethical Consumer, Iceland has the worst rating for palm oil, yet along with its other green ambitions, the supermarket has promised to remove palm oil completely from its own brand products.

Despite the contradiction in its current rating for palm oil usage, risk of the advert not being aired at all and political nature, arguably Iceland will have one of the best-known campaigns of Christmas 2018. Can politically-charged campaigns always pull off?

The Good…….

Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick advert caused a stir this autumn yet despite an initial drop in share price, Nike soon gained significant high-profile backing and fans have followed suit. In particular, Nike’s youth engagement has benefited, with the brand being applauded for standing for something.

Kaepernick, an outcast American football player and civil rights activist, was chosen as the face of Nike’s new global advertising campaign, following his continued protest at the national anthem aimed at the police violence towards African Americans and other injustices in the U.S.  Following a high-profile case against the NFL, accusing owners of colluding together so that Kaepernick would not get signed, Nike’s advert nods to the 30-year-old’s apparent exile from the league and also helps tell the stories of other high-profile African-American athletes under the slogan “Believe in something. Evening if it means sacrificing everything.”

The Bad….

Last year Pepsi perhaps highlighted the importance of market research and diversity when piecing together a more politically motivated campaign. Its advert with model Kendall Jenner was famed for being an in-house creation from PepsiCo’s ‘Creators League Studio’, with a bid to create content quicker, for less and to remove the complicated structures of working with ad agencies.

It awkwardly mirrored the Black Lives Matter movement, caused a mass social media backlash, insulted the daughter of Martin Luther King, resulting in Pepsi pulling it and issuing an apology.

An ill-conceived attempt at supporting a widely applauded movement.

And many more….

Interestingly it would seem that audiences are shifting their view of campaigns with a more political message. In 2017 a 4A’s survey found that 58% of consumers disliked it when a brand got political. However, 2017 also seemed to be quite a turning point for brands breaking away from the perceived risks of more politically charged messaging, particularly in the U.S. and the impact of the Trump administration with brands taking a more direct opposition to the President. There are host of other examples here too, including a tongue-in-cheek Brexit-themed ad from Ryan Air, a strong Brexit themed campaign from Jigsaw challenging the notion of anything being 100% British and a host of other U.S. examples linked to the Trump administration.

So, what’s the deal for the rest of us?

Whether you have a big campaign budget or simply looking to better engage an audience within a small project, there are a few points worth considering when it comes to more political messaging.

  • For the love of Pepsi, test your message! Even if it’s an email campaign to a group of residents, or an internal campaign to boost morale, if you’re edging close to something more political in nature, stress test your message with your target audience before you miss the mark. This can also give you a chance to focus a message, adapt the channels you use or consider the tone of the campaign and how it will be received.
  • Think ahead – best and worst case. As with anything you do, you can’t please everyone. But, if you are going to be bolder with a message you should spend some time thinking about how you might handle reactions, both the good and the bad. In spending a little time thinking about these processes, you may just future proof the campaign.
  • Does the message reflect your view? As an organisation, team, area of work – does the message work? Iceland perhaps are a great example of putting out a message on palm oil when their current rating is poor – however it is something they are committing to address for their own produce so it fits their brand positioning. Does what you say fit with your direction of travel? If not, your audience may just be the ones to remind you.
Photo by Jack Cain on Unsplash

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