Iceland made headlines last Christmas for its strident ad against the use of palm oil, which the supermarket chain said it would excise from is own-brand products. Originally produced by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace, the work reflects a new interest and urgency about climate and the world around us.

Popular culture is waking up to the environmental challenges that the world faces, but despite those threats’ longevity, it has been difficult to tell stories that inspire action. Greenpeace’s Rang-Tan campaign arguably changed that. (For more, read WARC’s exclusive report: How a cartoon orang-utan drove awareness for Iceland and Greenpeace)

Speaking in London, Greenpeace’s executive director John Sauven explained that the palm oil problem at the core of the ad was a colossal and rapidly expanding problem: an area the size of a football pitch is being destroyed in the Indonesian rainforest every 25 seconds, to feed the FMCG sector’s appetite for palm oil.

Palm oil is in around about half the products on supermarket shelves. “Everything from soaps to biscuits – and every leading brand, every leading company will be using palm oil in its products,” Sauven said. So as well as raising awareness amongst consumers, Greenpeace wanted to put continue to pressure on corporations to think about where they source ingredients from (previous campaigns had targeted brands like Kit Kat and Dove over their use of palm oil).

Working with the creative agency Mother, the team worked on a couple of different ideas, but many of the facts were just too difficult for people to process. It boiled down to a tangible victim.

“We went from this big devastation deforestation back to the smallness of what is our closest relative in the wild, the orang-utan,” said Hermeti Balarin of Mother. Just looking into their eyes is enough to make that connection, he added. “So there and then we started to feel that that was where the centre of gravity of this whole thing could take place.”

What really projected the campaign into the public spotlight was the involvement of Iceland, the frozen food retailer, which wanted to cut palm oil use and plant a flag. But achieving that is no easy task for a smaller retailer, which lacks the leverage to simply demand compliance from suppliers.

Due to Greenpeace’s involvement, the TV ad was banned - deemed political despite the fact that it was market rather than government-facing. The ban was, possibly, the best thing that ever happened to the campaign, as it spurred over a million people to sign a petition to get the ad back on TV.

Balarin rejected the idea this was a calculated move, a plan from the brand to get the ad banned for maximum exposure. “I wish we were that smart.”

The April issue of Admap – Sustainability: Opportunities and challenges for brands – features a selection of articles by thought leaders from across the globe. WARC subscribers can access the deck, Sustainability: Opportunities and challenges for brands, which summarises the expert advice and key recommendations from all the authors.

Sourced from WARC