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WHY ICELAND’S BANNED CHRISTMAS ADVERT IS GREAT PR

Senior account manager Ian Gallagher looks at why Iceland’s banned Christmas commercial has been such a huge talking point…

You won’t see Iceland’s Christmas advert on your TV this festive season. But thanks to a media landscape which has changed forever, it has been seen and talked about so many more times than it ever would have been if it had just appeared on the small screen.

It is – in my opinion – a fantastically-executed piece of PR. Iceland says it didn’t plan for the advert to be banned, but the way it has used the opportunity it was presented with has been exemplary.

In case you’ve missed the story, the advert highlights the impact of rainforest destruction on the oranguatan and Iceland’s commitment to removing palm oil from its own-brand products. But it was rejected by Clearcast, the body which clears adverts for broadcast, on the grounds that it was too political.

Let’s take Iceland at its word and accept that it didn’t want the advert to be banned. However, I suspect it did. It acknowledges it isn’t likely to compete with the likes of John Lewis and its glamorous, celebrity-filled TV ads, so it’s done something different.

By pitching something which ended up getting banned, it has achieved wonderful media coverage, millions of video views and countless opinion pieces like this one, all while massively raising awareness of an important issue.

Big brands don’t want consumers to be challenged at Christmas. They want everyone to buy into a ideal where everyone is having a wonderful time and their products – and their largely vanilla advertising – only enhance that. Iceland isn’t in the business of challenging John Lewis for customers but its advert is on course to be the most talked-about in 2018, and it’s the one which addresses an important, man-made problem which should force us to think.

And it’s all due to the power of digital. At the time of writing, the advert has had 3.3 million views on Iceland’s YouTube channel. It’s had 12 million views on Facebook and 89,000 retweets on Twitter. Stephen Fry, Julia Bradbury and James Corden are among the celebrity names who have queued up to endorse the cause.

By self-publishing, encouraging shares and getting people from all walks of life to back the campaign, it has served up a true viral hit. Can you imagine trying to pitch this concept to Iceland’s board in the days before social media and a 24-hour news cycle? It simply wouldn’t work.

We often talk about the rule of 80/20 in social media publishing – that is, you need to publish eight ‘nice’ pieces of content to every two pieces of sales content. But while this may only be one post, the goodwill it has generated is enormous. Iceland has now started plugging its palm oil-free mince pies and I wouldn’t mind betting they fly off the shelves.