Marketing and Comms
Iceland's Banned Ad Had the Potential to Democratise Sustainability

The news last week that the Christmas advert from Iceland — a UK supermarket chain specializing in frozen food — has been banned is a bad decision.

Iceland’s advert — a repackaging of a short, animated film by Greenpeace released earlier this year with a powerful, consumer-friendly sustainability message — shows a brand that is trying to do good work by improving its impact on the world.

Earlier this year, after becoming the world’s first major retailer to eliminate all plastic packaging from its own-brand products, Iceland became the first major supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from its own-brand products, so it is using its ad to campaign on an issue that is important and is actually credible for it to talk about with customers. Reducing usage of palm oil is a complex issue, and not everyone agrees with the action taken by the supermarket. However, it is such a shame that the ad has been blocked, as the traditional Christmas advert is a platform for brands to really connect with consumers, and the fact that Iceland chose to focus on sustainability is amazingly progressive.

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It is also incredibly important for brands such as Iceland to be making this stand, as it democratises the idea of sustainability. The whole ‘brand purpose’ movement has for some time been in danger of becoming overly directed towards a left-wing, middle-class audience who have the time, money and resources to be able to get involved). Iceland has been broadening its base of shoppers over the last three years, but a large proportion of its customers are lower-income families. Through the actions of the business, it is working to make sure it acts with purpose in the decisions it is making. Through this campaign, the brand is making sure that sustainability generally, and complex issues around the impact of products such as palm oil, becomes more accessible.

In an op-ed on Friday, The Guardian’s Jessica Brown called the Iceland ad “brave and necessary” — it is absolutely critical that big, mass-market brands are able to shout about the good work they are doing. If Iceland, and other brands like it, don’t have the opportunity to present and connect big social and environmental issues to less affluent audiences, sustainability and social responsibility will forever remain ’someone else's problem.’

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