Creative Brand Communications

Sustainability x Iceland Foods

promoting 'the most powerful ad' of Christmas 2018


In keeping with its on-going commitment to the environment, Iceland had elected to use ‘Rang-tan’ – a short film by Greenpeace focused on the world’s loneliest orangutan as a metaphor for the deforestation caused as a result of palm oil production – as its 2018 Christmas advert.

The 90-second ad in turn highlighted Iceland’s role as the first UK supermarket to remove palm oil as an ingredient from its own brand food.

A week before launch, the advert failed to be cleared for broadcast, leaving Iceland facing a lost opportunity to tell the world about the harm done by palm oil, in addition to a potentially commercially devastating situation.

So Iceland’s challenge to us was to promote a TV ad that would never be broadcast.

In a season saturated with ‘same old’ TV spots, we believed a carefully honed earned media strategy could leapfrog paid broadcast altogether, delivering Iceland’s heartfelt palm oil message to a much broader audience, with the aim of effecting real change.

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An integrated strategy was meticulously planned to build over the Christmas trading period and use key milestones, such as the date the ad would have aired on TV, to ensure Iceland dominated headlines and social feeds.

And it did, taking on a life of its own as the public’s support for what we were trying to do exploded.

Working alongside Weber Shandwick Manchester, key national media were briefed under embargo and on the day the ad should have been shown on TV for the first time, and a series of strategically placed interviews with the MD resulted in the story of the ban being covered by every national and broadcast media outlet.

The advert was also showcased on Iceland’s website and owned social channels, and key influencers shared the message including Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais and James Corden.

Monkey Business

We needed to keep momentum going and give media multiple reasons to keep covering without any ‘new news’ once the ban was announced.

As the ad had gained a life of its own, we decided to do the same for its star.

We created a unique experiential event in London featuring the world’s loneliest orangutang, brought to life in animatronic form, with a specially trained performance artist in a costume enhanced with state-of-the-art technology.

Seven days after the story first made the headlines, Londoners were shocked to see our homeless orangutan made real, walking amongst them during rush hour before popping up at several other locations and spending a day at the top of a tailor-made 40ft-high Christmas tree on the South Bank.

The animatronic replica took months of work by a dedicated team of special effects artists and it was given its astonishing lifelike movements by a specialist puppeteer, with remote control electronics providing additional dynamics by manipulating facial muscles.

We even enlisted a Hollywood stunt coordinator who had previously worked on Planet of the Apes, to choreograph the animatronic creature’s movement in the tree. Two days of secret rehearsals took place ahead of launch – and ensured the media and public would be wowed by this seamless performance.

And it succeeded – the stricken primate was a charged and fitting symbol of the effects of deforestation caused as a result of palm oil production and the event generated worldwide coverage.

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  • Advert viewed over 80 million times
  • + 800 pieces of coverage, including every UK national paper and broadcast media outlet, ABC Australia, New York Times and USA Today
  • 267 million views on social, 82 million engagements

The public took the Orangutan, the campaign and Iceland into their hearts.

A petition launched by a concerned member of the public attracted more than 1 million signatures in support of getting the ad on TV, and over 1,000 schools contacted Iceland and Greenpeace to get involved.

But did it really work?

  • Advert named the most powerful of 2018 by Kantar Millward Brown
  • Iceland’s YouGov Brand Buzz score reached an all-time high; in December 2018, it
  • Continued to score higher than competitors Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons Independent post-campaign research with consumers also revealed:
  • Awareness of what palm oil is grew by 7%, the equivalent of 4.6 million people
    64% say they’re more likely to shop at Iceland following its removal of palm oil
  • Iceland ranked as the most environmentally friendly supermarket amongst its UK competitors (up from 9th out of 11)