A Frosty Reception for Iceland | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

A Frosty Reception for Iceland

Comment writer Hannah Lay explains why she feels it was right for Iceland's 2018 Christmas advert to be banned

I’ll admit that adverts are not my favourite thing. They interrupt TV programmes, are often overly cliché and you end up seeing the same advert repeatedly. However, at Christmas, my opinion goes full circle – I love a good Christmas campaign. I feel like this love started with the John Lewis advert about the snowman in 2012 and since then Christmas adverts have developed a cult following with thousands waiting anxiously for the John Lewis advert among others every Christmas.

The orangutan explains that humans are destroying his home

This year the fun of Christmas adverts has been mired with controversy. Iceland’s Christmas campaign did not even make the TV. The advert depicts a young girl whose room has been invaded and destroyed by an orangutan. The girl asks the orangutan what he is doing in her room and the advert cuts to clips of bulldozers destroying rainforests, the orangutan’s home. The orangutan explains that humans are destroying his home in order to obtain palm oil to use in food and cosmetic products. The advert closes with a dedication to the ‘25 orangutans we lose every day’ and a promise from Iceland to remove palm oil from all own-brand products by the end of the year.

It was an emotive advert and it opened my eyes to the problem of palm oil. However, the advert has been banned for being too political. According to an article on the BBC, the advert had been made by the environmental organisation Greenpeace. The regulatory board that approves TV ads, Clearcast, had required Greenpeace to prove they were not political advertisers before it was possible to broadcast the advert, which they were unable to do. Clearcast stressed that they were not trying to say that the message within the advert was political but that its affiliation with a political organisation breached advertising law.

its affiliation with a political organisation breached advertising law

The answer to the question of whether adverts, Christmas or otherwise should be political, is always no because the law explicitly states that this is not allowed. Yes, the advert itself was discussing an environmental issue, a fact that in itself is not political. And yes, the advert was cute and very informative. However, given its affiliation, the decision taken was, in my opinion for the best. If this advert was allowed to be broadcast, how many more subliminally political adverts will slip through the net? If regulatory boards are not strict, how can we know that the next Christmas advert we watch has not been produced by a different political organisation?

Some argued that this seems to have been a bit of publicity stunt. Iceland would have been very aware of the law on advertising when they tried to broadcast the advert, yet they still pursued the campaign. If this was the case, it has worked tremendously well.  At the time of writing, the advert had received 5.3 million views on YouTube whilst the BBC reported that it had had over 13 million views on Iceland’s Facebook page and over 90,000 retweets on Twitter. Arguably, Iceland have done better out of the advert being banned than they would have done had it been broadcast normally.

Iceland was the first supermarket in the UK to commit to going plastic free

Despite the potential drive for publicity, it should be recognised that Iceland have committed to removing palm oil from all of their own brand products; a significant step in helping the environment. Even if the advert was for publicity, Iceland are still doing their bit to make a change. Also, an article from the Independent reported in January that Iceland was the first supermarket in the UK to commit to going plastic free in all of its own brand products within five years. This is a similar environmental policy move which could be evidence that the Christmas campaign is just part of Iceland’s efforts to improve their environmental impact rather than just gaining publicity.

Something that also struck me about Iceland’s Christmas campaign was the lack of reference to Christmas itself. Most, if not all Christmas adverts, I have seen make at least a minor reference to the holiday season. However, this was not the case in this advert. Yes, the advert was unsuccessful because it was political, but it also failed in achieving its purpose – to promote Iceland’s Christmas campaign. I will remember Iceland’s Christmas campaign from 2018 but not because it gave me any Christmas cheer or Christmas anything for that matter.

Politics student with lots of opinions


29th December 2018 at 7:00 am

Images from

Nomo Micheal Hoefner