Iceland Christmas advert: too political or too pertinent?

Iceland has launched a Christmas advert campaign to raise awareness for deforestation. The narration is by Emma Thompson, in collaboration with Greenpeace. However Clearcast, the NGO that decides which ads to approve, banned it because it was “too political”, according to the 2003 Communications Act.

It shows an animation of an orangutan in a girl’s bedroom. The girl expresses her desire for it to leave because “she throws away my chocolate and she howls at my shampoo”. We are then taken on a flashback to where the orangutan originated, and we discover the animal is an asylum seeker. The situation has been reversed; the orangutan explains, “there is a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do” and the humans are “burning it for palm oil, so I thought I’d stay with you”. We are first coerced into enjoying a playful cartoon, but it soon becomes clear that this is a discussion about catastrophic climate change that we can have a bearing on.

Malcolm Walker, Iceland’s founder, said, “We got permission to use it and take off the Greenpeace logo and use it as the Iceland Christmas ad. It would have blown the John Lewis ad out of the window. It was so emotional.”

The producers of the advert would have been aware of the guidelines. But that is exactly why they followed through with its production. The banning of the ad has been all over newspapers and social media. Yes, it is a beautifully made, thought-provoking commercial that would have had a strongly divided reception if it were aired. But the decision not to broadcast the advertisement has not only drawn light upon the message it intends to disperse, but has also called into question the laws surrounding advertising regulations.

The debate has reached far and wide. From The Guardian to Sky, and Facebook to Twitter, all audiences have been privy to the discussion.

With television and, in particular, social media having such an impact on young audiences today, should advertising companies, who play a huge part in the content released, have the freedom to assert their opinions? Shouldn’t we support pioneering companies and charities with money and power, like Iceland and Greenpeace, to platform their beliefs? Is it okay to censor viewers against points of view simply because they are deemed “too political”? And finally, where is the line drawn? How is “too political” defined, and who is defining it? All of these questions have arisen since Clearcast made their newsworthy decision.

Yes, they may have halted the broadcast of the advert on TV, but it was widely spread on the Internet nonetheless. Is it worth having such restrictions in place if it’ll be distributed over social media and will probably hit a bigger audience anyway? It’s true, if commercials were allowed to be political, debates between advertising companies may ensue. And, after all, adverts are made to promote business, not front their political agendas. But at least this would make much more interesting viewing than a parade of the next best ‘shampoo for coloured hair’ on offer.

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January 2022
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