Iceland’s Christmas Campaign: A Coolly Calculated Conquest

Like it or not, Christmas adverts are already dominating our screens and last week supermarket chain Iceland surprised us all with its controversial campaign.

I say “surprised” because this particular advert, which features an animated fluffy orangutan to highlight a serious environmental issue, is a far cry from its series featuring the likes of Kerry Katona and Peter Andre that we’re used to.

And when you compare it with last year’s humourous offering, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Iceland has had a complete brand transplant.

Rang-tang’s story may have been banned from reaching our TV screens, but it seems that taking a different approach to its advertising has paid off for Iceland on this occasion; the ad amassed an impressive 3.5 million views on YouTube in less than a week, garnering support from some of the western world’s biggest stars. 

While, at the time of writing, the supermarket’s 2017 series of 10 dubbed Christmas home videos are sitting at around 300,000 YouTube views collectively.

No matter how you feel about this year’s ‘banned’ ad, you can’t argue with those stats from a marketing perspective – and John Lewis’ advertising team may well be sweating, after having been the ones to beat in a highly-competitive Christmas ad market in recent years.

But was it Iceland’s intention all along to release a controversial campaign that was arguably guaranteed to go viral?

The firm’s relationship with Greenpeace, the NGO behind the animated clip, can be traced back more than 20 years.

And in April 2017 – long before we set eyes on little Rang-tang – Iceland highlighted the environmental impact of palm oil production by vowing to completely eradicate the oil from all its own-label products by the end of 2018.

The firm’s Marketing Director Neil Hayes says he did know it was a risk to use a Greenpeace film but that, following discussions with Clearcast (the regulator which signs off ads for TV), it appeared that the ad would get the green light.

He claims to have received the final decision “very recently”, leaving the team in the unenviable position of having to change their media plan.

However, I would argue that this controversy – intentional or not – has done enough to boost Iceland’s popularity and sales throughout the festive season and couldn’t have come at a better time.

We humans are becoming more and more conscious about how our behaviour affects the environment. For example, in England our use of plastic bags has plummeted by a whopping 90% since the introduction of the plastic bag tax in 2015, and only last week did Collins reveal ‘single-use’ as the word of the year.

Some say that Iceland’s 2018 Christmas advert over-simplifies a complex issue, but I think that undermines its impact on those who were previously unaware of it – which can never be a bad thing, surely?

It has certainly kickstarted a conversation and more than 500,000 people have signed a petition to reverse Clearcast’s decision.       

Iceland is obviously working hard on its Corporate Social Responsibility strategy behind the scenes and Emma Thompson’s heartfelt storytelling has helped catapult it to the fore.   

– Written by Senior Account Executive Zoe Lamb.