What is it about Christmas adverts?

This time last year it was a Greggs advert that was getting everybody hot under the collar. The high street baker’s use of sausage rolls in its baked goods nativity scene was causing an unholy rumpus. There was a degree of silliness about that story, alongside a sense that Greggs had achieved exactly what they set out to : viral coverage of their campaign that went far beyond what would have been achieved by a less controversial approach.

This year, it’s the frozen foods specialist Iceland that has found itself the centre of a spat with Clearcast, the organisation responsible for vetting adverts for broadcast on British TV. The retailer has made a big play in recent months of removing palm oil from all of its own brand products. This is in response to the deforestation of large parts of Borneo, Malaysia and other parts of the world, with a devastating impact on orang-utan populations. Iceland had partnered with Greenpeace and were intending to use a Greenpeace animated film as their Christmas advert. You can see the film here. However, their plans have been scuppered by a Clearcast ruling that the advert is too political. The irony that advertising palm oil products is legal, but highlighting the habitat destruction that allows palm oil to be produced is not, has not been lost on many of the commentators who have so far written about the story.

But as with the Greggs furore last year, the reality is that more people are now aware of the Iceland campaign than would probably have noticed it has the TV advert simply been cleared for broadcast. The fact that the YouTube version has been linked to from virtually every UK newspaper site, as well as countless Facebook and Twitter accounts, has established a reach for the content that far exceeds that which would normally be expected from TV advertising alone.

In this case, it’s a good thing that the important message behind the advert is getting through.

The implications of this episode for the stifling rules governing TV adverts in an age of YouTube and other social media platforms, remains to be seen.

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