As consumers of the high-street and viewers of TV, we are no stranger to the annual Christmas advert standoff. Large companies such as Marks and Spencer and John Lewis spend millions of pounds on an elaborate Christmas advert to pull at our heart-strings (and get us to spend our money) with an underlying message that speaks of community or compassion.


Iceland’s advert this year was no different…except it has been banned from our screens for being too political.


This year, Iceland chose to take a stand against the use of palm oil in supermarket products. The food retailer released a Greenpeace animation that illustrates the damage the palm oil industry does to our rainforests, air quality and biodiversity. The emotional video features an orangutan that has ventured into a young girl’s bedroom after it’s home and habitat has been destroyed due to palm oil production. It details the horrors of the palm oil agriculture and evokes a powerful message of having a #NoPalmOilChristmas this year. This comes after Iceland announced that it would be the first UK supermarket to remove palm oil from all of its own brand products.


What is palm oil?

Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is derived from the fruit of an oil palm tree. It is used in food, household products and confectionary. It is one of the world’s leading causes of deforestation and is a threat to a number of endangered species such as the orangutan. It is also linked to our changing climate and indigenous rights abuses.


Why has the advert been banned?

The advert has been banned by Clearcast, the body which judges adverts against the advertising standards regulations due to its political message and origins as a Greenpeace video.


Why is it such a big deal?

The issue of palm oil is not a new one, however, it is not a conversation frequently had in the media, or by big businesses. Palm oil is found in most of our household products and is partly responsible for the destruction and degradation of our rainforests. Iceland’s advert put aside the consumerist Christmas advert in favour of an important message of environmental consciousness and consumer responsibility. The banning of this advert from TV almost refutes this goal and makes it clear that these sorts of environmental messages are not welcome on our screens.


What can we do?

The more people who know about the issue of palm oil, the more people who can take steps to reduce its place in society. Watching and sharing the Iceland video on social media will educate individuals about the palm oil industry and its environmental impact. The palm oil crisis doesn’t have an easy solution, but as consumers, it is possible to help the issue. By shopping responsibly and buying palm-oil free products (there is a guide here: we can show companies that we do not approve of palm oil being used in our household items and highlight the importance of sustainable living.


Although the advert is not going to be seen on TV this year, the power of social media and the internet has meant that the video already has over 2.5 million views on YouTube. It is a fraction of the reach it would have got if it was allowed on traditional TV, but it is better than nothing. Share, like and spread the message.


Iceland’s Christmas advert has a powerful message and although it won’t be shown on our TV screens, it has initiated a dialogue about sustainable consumption, the role of advertising and the power of individual voice.


Text by Parul Obhrai

Picture research by Anna Irina; featured image from Pinterest.