The Christmas ad banned for being too political

Viral: Despite being banned from TV, the ad has been watched over two million times on YouTube.

Should the ban be lifted? Thousands have signed a petition demanding that Iceland’s banned “Rang-tan” advert be allowed on TV. They say its urgent environmental message must be heard.

“There’s a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do, he destroyed all of our trees for your food and your shampoo. There’s a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do, he took away my mother and I’m scared he’ll take me too.”

These are some of several heartbreaking lines from Iceland’s controversial new Christmas advert. The short animation stars Rang-tan, a young orangutan whose rainforest home has been cut down to make way for palm oil plantations.

But you will not be seeing it on TV any time soon, after it was banned for being too political. The video was originally produced for the environmental activist group Greenpeace, however, regulations specifically prohibit adverts which are “directed towards a political end”.

Despite the ban, some are still trying to spread the word. After the ruling, Iceland tweeted to ask the public to help share the ad across social media, and more than 570,000 people signed a petition to get the decision overturned.

“Rather than protecting the public from insidious political messages, [the ban] has prevented a crucial message being broadcast to millions of viewers,” argued Jessica Brown in The Guardian.

What is this crucial message? The catastrophic impact that palm oil has on the environment.

Palm oil is a base ingredient in thousands of food and household products that many of us use every day, from candles, soap and lipstick, to biscuits, pizzas, margarine and chocolate. It is found in around half of all supermarket products.

In order to the produce palm oil, huge swathes of rainforest are cut down and replaced by palm tree plantations, devastating habitats and driving animals towards extinction. Approximately 100,000 orangutans have been wiped out since 1999.

In an effort to tackle the problem, this year, Iceland pledged to remove palm oil completely from all of its own-brand food.

Should the advert ban be lifted?

No-rangutan

Of course, some argue. The ad communicates a crucial environmental message — it would make a bigger impact if it was seen more widely. More companies should follow Iceland’s example too. Big brands are trusted and their adverts reach a huge audience. If they used this power to encourage sustainable living, our whole society would change for the better.

Not necessarily, others respond. The ad has an admirable message, but the rules which prohibit political ads should be upheld — it would become maddening if every advert started pushing a political cause. Rather than relying on advertisers to save the world, we must lobby our politicians to start taking environmental causes seriously. That is the only way real change will come.

You Decide

  1. Should more big businesses make political adverts?
  2. Is climate change the most important problem facing society?

Activities

  1. Use the link in Become An Expert to watch the banned Iceland advert. What are your first impressions? How does it try to make the audience care about the environment? Do you think it should have been banned?
  2. Do some research on the types of products that contain palm oil. Make a list of all the examples you can find. Find out the different ways that palm oil can be labelled on these products. How many of these things do you think you use per week?

Some People Say...

“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.”

Marshall McLuhan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Palm oil is the most common vegetable oil, with 66 million tonnes produced each year. Every hour, the equivalent of 300 football pitches of forest is cut down across South East Asia to make way for plantations. Some palm oil is produced in an environmentally friendly way and is recognised with “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” (CSPO) label. Pressure is growing on manufacturers to only source CSPO palm oil.
What do we not know?
How much impact the advert will have. It being banned from TV may, ironically, give it a much larger audience — thanks to the publicity and social media interest the story has attracted.

Word Watch

Orangutan
A species of great ape native to Malaysia and Indonesia. Orangutans are extremely intelligent: they use sophisticated tools and live in complex social groups.
Plantations
An area of land used for growing crops.
Greenpeace
Founded in 1971, its stated goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity.” It campaigns on worldwide issues including climate change, deforestation, overfishing and whaling.
Regulations
Rules banning political advertising in the UK were established by the 2003 Communications Act.
Rainforest
Primarily located in Indonesia and Malaysia, the two countries dominate global palm oil production, accounting for 85% of the supply.
100,000
According to the paper “Global Demand for Natural Resources Eliminated More Than 100,000 Bornean Orangutans,” published in Current Biology.