Iceland's Christmas advert is brave and beautiful. The decision to ban it for being 'too political' is heartless

This makes about as much sense as complaining that a Dogs Trust ad is manipulating us into being kind to dogs

Shaparak Khorsandi
Saturday 10 November 2018 08:40 GMT
Rang-tan: Iceland’s banned TV Christmas advert protests palm oil industry

When I heard that supermarket chain Iceland’s Christmas ad had been banned for being too political, I thought: “Wow! They’ve done it. They’ve put Trump’s head on a platter, complete with MAGA hat, surrounded by Brussel sprouts, and it’s being served by a Melania lookalike to the tune of ‘Killing In the Name!’” Even I would think that is too political, as well as somewhat unhygienic.

But no, it was the inclusion of a different citrus-tinged ape altogether that advertising watchdog Clearcast took exception to. It decided that the little cartoon baby orangutan, “Rang-tan”, breached the political rules of the Broadcasting Code of Advertising Practise (BCAP), as it played in the bedroom of a little girl because “there’s a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do; they destroy all of our trees for your food and your shampoo.” It’s a beautiful, moving, 90-second advert voiced by Emma Thompson and at the end, it is dedicated to the “25 orangutans that die a day”.

Sixty-six million tonnes of palm oil are harvested each year to make everything from lipstick to shower gel to pizza bases and chocolate spread. Its production is destroying the habitat of the man of the forest; the beautiful, chubby-cheeked orangutan.

A while back, I conducted an online search of the effects of palm oil harvesting and I can’t unsee what I saw: Orangutans lying dead in their forest, or hideously burnt and injured, a baby trying to suckle its dead mother’s breast. Their population has halved since 1999 all because of palm oil.

So, is it really “political” to try and get the message out there that this is still happening?

Iceland was the first retailer to ban palm oil in all of its own-brand food. Using alternatives to palm oil saves the lives of these beautiful creatures and should send us into a frenzy of label-checking. But it’s not just the orangutans that should mobilise us into finding alternatives; it’s the effects of deforestation that harvesting palm oil requires, leading to rising gas emissions and climate change.

What’s “too political” about it? There was a time when a mixed-race couple in a department store advert was seen as “political”. Should they too have been banned?

In a Debenhams advert from 2017, a white woman and a black man fall in love on a train. It ruffled a few feathers online, was even seen as “ramming political correctness down our throats” by some. And the fact is, that mixed-race couples in ads are significant and political because it took such a ridiculous amount of time for advertisers to allow it, for fear of getting people’s backs up. When we see it, it is still of note. Therefore it is political.

Finally, we are arriving at a place where the concerns of those who object to the colour of someone else’s skin are not taken into consideration. Why is it different for the rights of sentient beings who cannot speak for themselves? Why is showing concern for animal welfare and deforestation too political? What ideological opposition could there possibly be?

The advert was linked to a Greenpeace campaign, which seemed to have been the sticking point for the BCAP. Greenpeace is of course political: they lobby governments and campaign to get laws changed. But it was agreed that Greenpeace’s logo would be taken off the advert. It wasn’t Greenpeace telling us what was going on, it was Iceland.

It’s maddening to know that these people had a chance to allow a leading supermarket chain to spread the word about how orangutans are suffering at our hands, and instead decided in some grey, machine-like way to put the kibosh on it. Any complaint about the advert would have made as much sense as complaining that a Dogs Trust ad is trying to manipulate us into being kind to dogs.

What Iceland did was brilliant and beautiful and brought us closer to understanding the real cost of what we consume. Many may not care or may not be moved to make changes in what they buy, but that’s beside the point; we need to get the message out there to those who do and will.

So do it. Get the message out there. Know what’s in your shampoo, your soap, your cakes, your bread. Look up the alternative names for palm oil that manufacturers use – know what you’re buying.

And share the advert online. They can’t show it on TV but they have put it out on YouTube.

These apes can’t speak, so let’s speak for them and let as many people as possible know how harmful using palm oil is.

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