Cannes Lions



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Each year, UK retailers battle it out for their Christmas adverts to create more impact than any other. In keeping with its on-going commitment to the environment, frozen foods supermarket Iceland had elected to use ‘Rang-tan’ – a short film developed by Greenpeace explaining the devastating deforestation caused as a result of palm oil production. The 90-second advert highlighted Iceland’s role as the first UK supermarket to remove palm oil as an ingredient from its own brand food; a commitment announced earlier in the year with our ‘palm oil alarm call’ campaign.

Then, a week before it was due to air on TV, the advert failed to be cleared for broadcast, leaving Iceland facing a lost opportunity to tell the world about the harm done by deforestation in palm oil production – and without a Christmas ad, a potentially commercially devastating situation. Iceland’s marketing team needed a plan B, fast.


Iceland’s advert not being cleared to air on TV left the business facing Christmas without being able to continue its important mission. It was a gamble, but our instinct told us that “the Christmas ad that never was” could prove to be “the Christmas ad that changed the world”, and we were right. The creative asset at the core drew on the oldest method of communication; it told a story, simplifying the complexity of the issue and representing it with an arboreal mammal relatable to humans. A carefully honed earned media strategy designed to create a true 'moment in time' for this exceptional piece of content could leapfrog paid broadcast altogether, delivering Iceland’s heartfelt palm oil message to a much broader audience at a key time of year, at home and abroad, with the aim of effecting real change.


Our challenge: to show a TV ad at Christmas without it appearing on TV. Previous research had revealed the low consumer awareness and interest around palm oil issues, so continuing to combat that whilst being unable to show the ad on TV presented a significant hurdle.

Additionally, when news of the ad not being broadcast became public, two things began to happen; the spread of the cynical assumption that Iceland had engineered the situation deliberately to garner publicity, and the bombardment of Clearcast with complaints from angry consumers. The former was particularly painful, as Iceland had invested millions of pounds and endured a painstaking process to remove palm oil from its products. We needed to rapidly position the ad as a viral campaign, aimed at the British public and prevent the dilution of the hugely important message about palm oil with anger about perceived silencing or cynicism about staged PR.


We had to be careful to communicate that this was not a war against Clearcast and that the advert had not been refused clearance on the grounds that its content was too political, rather the association with Greenpeace was considered too political.

Key media were briefed under embargo and on November 9, when the advert should have been shown on TV for the first time, we scheduled a comprehensive series of interviews for Iceland Managing Director, Richard Walker, to explain Iceland’s intentions. Early morning he appeared on the Radio4 Today programme (13mn+ listener base) to break the news of the situation. This was followed by a succession of broadcast and press interviews.

We showcased the advert on Iceland’s website and owned social channels. Key influencers were engaged, many organically, including Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, James Corden and Secretary of State for Environment, Michael Gove to share the message on social.


With the advert viewed over 80 million times and more than 800 pieces of coverage, the team at Iceland had, after all, been able to utilise Christmas to reach an even broader audience. The message was heard loud and clear, even on the other side of the world where action towards real change quickly followed.

•Advert named the most powerful of 2018 by Kantor Millward Brown

•Awareness of what palm oil is grew by 7% amongst UK consumers, the equivalent of 4.6mn people nationally (One Poll)

•Iceland ranked as the most environmentally friendly supermarket amongst its UK competitors (One Poll)

Influencer commentary included this from American conservationist and founder of environmental website,, Rhett Butler: “There’s been a huge spike in awareness about palm oil because of the Iceland ad. It was quite astonishing, actually. It seems like global interest in this issue is at an all-time high.”

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