“There’s a Rang-Tan in my bedroom”

Since I started studying sustainability formally last year, I have been keeping an eye out for communication campaigns in this area. One example stands out….the recent Iceland Christmas advert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdpspllWI2o

The topic was not new to me, I have been aware of the environmental impact of palm oil for some time, including the destruction of the orangutan’s natural habitat in South East Asia. However, while watching this advert the emotion of this needless destruction hit me, I was in tears! This sparked a number of personal actions, including seeking out palm oil free products, signing online petitions, writing to my parliamentary representative and donating to a wildlife charity. It got me thinking about how this campaign had been so effective…

This advert was for a UK-based supermarket, Iceland, with support from Greenpeace. This type of collaboration for an advert is really interesting and to my knowledge, quite unusual. It had a positive impact as it helped to avoid the perception of ‘corporate spin’ thereby increasing public trust in the message.

Iceland have also put their money where their mouth is, by removing palm oil from their own-brand products and campaigning more broadly:https://www.iceland.co.uk/environment/

Concrete actions of this sort are important to make a campaign work. Of course Iceland also ultimately hope this will differentiate them from competition and help them gain customers. Even so, I would love to see more collaborations of this sort – there is a lot to gain from partnering for all sides!

The advert was banned from television as it was deemed political. This resulted in it going viral online, creating impact as it became a talking point. By early 2019, the advert had been viewed over 5.8m times on one YouTube upload alone. It was shared on Facebook by a number of my friends, this kind of endorsement is powerful as it utilises personal connections.

During a radio show breakfast debate on the topic, Iceland’s Chief Executive defended their palm oil policy. It was clear a strong media briefing had taken place, he represented the issue in a factual and persuasive manner. There remain controversies about the fact the Iceland policy will not be implemented in full until beginning 2019. The company being honest and transparent on areas for improvement is also important to maintain credibility.

The advert is a cartoon, which has narration by a young child – it benefits from not being an academic lecture-style format. It starts off relatively innocently, roughly halfway through moving to the negative impacts of palm oil. This gentle beginning draws the audience in, I suspect for some watching the shift in tone will have been a surprise – but this also keeps people watching. The switch to black and white with roaring machines destroying the forest is shocking and upsetting. The child-like language, storytelling style and sympathetic characters, including ‘Rang-Tan’, make the message impactful and easy to understand for non-experts.

I hope more sustainability campaigns use some of these techniques, and others, to create calls to action for our planet. #oneplanet #SDG17

6 thoughts on ““There’s a Rang-Tan in my bedroom”

  1. I agree with you on this view. I found the advert very powerful and also shared it with friends on FaceBook. I’m hoping it will make a lasting impact

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  2. Thanks for the interesting blog!

    I agree with you that the Greenpeace / Iceland video is indeed very powerful and succeeds in creating an emotional connection with the viewer. Iceland also did a very clever move when they re-purposed the Greenpeace ad for their corporate messaging – they must have known that this ad will most likely not get approved by the broadcasting agency, but calculated that the controversy around this ban will get them high click rates online.

    However, I struggle a bit with the messaging (and your reaction to support a palm oil ban):

    First of all, we should take into consideration that about 40% of palm oil is produced by smallholders. If we ban palm oil from our products we take away these people’s livelihoods – so unless we support them in building an alternative livelihood, the social consequences of such a ban might be significant.

    Second, palm oil is a very efficient vegetable oil. If we cut palm oil and replace it by other oils, we will need significantly more surface area to produce that oil (https://www.palmoilandfood.eu/en/palm-oil-production). In that case, we would not solve the issue of deforestation, but simply displace it from one crop to another, from one country to another. Unless you cut your oil consumption significantly overall, a palm oil ban might drive unsustainable practices in other supply chains, such as coconut or soy. It would be interesting to understand how Iceland adjusted their recipes to avoid palm oil and how they replaced this ingredient…

    In light of these arguments, even an Iceland spokesperson recently clarified that they never called for a ban or boycott, but rather wanted to shine a light on the ongoing deforestation issues in the sector (https://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/iceland-chief-hits-back-at-palm-oil-pr-stunt-criticisms-as-farmers-union-declares-palm-oil-is-a-lifeline-not-a-bogeyman.html). I am aware that the current mechanisms to drive sustainable palm oil production have been flawed and that there are many cases that show certification has not had the impact we hoped for. In my point of view, we have two options: Either we ban palm oil from our consumption, or we look for a way to improve the palm oil sector and the tools we use to drive sustainable production within it. The revised principles and criteria that RSPO has published in November, in my point of view, are a good start on the latter.

    While I understand that it is difficult to be very nuanced in your messaging to consumers, and that bold claims are more easy to relate to and more actionable for consumers, I wonder if this ad went a bit too far in their simplification of the issue. How much of a balanced communication do we owe to consumers and how much can we expect them to process before losing interest or feeling overwhelmed?

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    1. Thank you corporate hippy for your comment.

      One correction regarding your reply, I do not support a ban on palm oil and I do not propose a ban in my blog. Rather I seek to avoid palm oil where possible. I should also like to an increase in clear and transparent labelling for products where it is included.

      I recognise Your comment re the economic value to smallholders and role in development. There are other benefits, including the fact it can be safely consumed by humans and low cost. However, I take a wider view of the negative environmental externalities of this product – particularly when it is produced in a unsustainable manner. I view other vegetable oils and agricultural products in the same way.

      In the UK we are starting to see products labelled with a sustainable palm oil certification and other products which avoid it completely as well as other vegetable oils (e.g. ethical cosmetics) – I welcome these initiatives so consumers can make informed choices and see the alternatives. It is not about stepping away completely but strengthening sustainability standards in the sector as a whole and looking carefully at alternatives.

      In my experience very few sustainability issues today are black and white, taking an informed view is important. In any case I commend Iceland for the advert which shone a light on this topic.

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  3. Great blog post. I was also enthralled by the ad and thought it was brilliant that the fact it was banned made it go viral. It made me much more aware of the issues with palm oil and I now I notice it particularly when looking at product ingredients.

    I have a somewhat nerdy interest in the UK supermarket industry – it’s so competitive I find it fascinating to follow the strategies and moves of the different chains. It’s been notable how Iceland has performed well on several fronts lately, from having the best on-line delivery service (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/18/how-did-iceland-become-the-top-online-supermarket) to having their Christmas mince pies stocked at Selfridges – a benefit of their palm oil initiative (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/15/selfridges-is-selling-iceland-own-brand-mince-pies-and-proud-of-it).

    However, when taking such a prominent stance it is crucial that organisations back it up with actions. And recent reports have indicated that “supermarket giant Iceland has continued to sell own-brand products containing palm oil despite pledging to stop doing so by the end of 2018” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46969920). Iceland responded to this by saying that it continues to sell its inventory of frozen food which may contain palm oil but that freshly produced food does not. However, the BBC reporter was able to purchase freshly made produce such as cakes which listed palm oil as an ingredient.

    The irony here is that Iceland is a leading supermarket on this issue and it is fantastic that they are doing so – but by taking such a moral stance it is even more notable when they trip up. In this case, clarity about inventory being sold would probably be understood by most consumers – after all, it wouldn’t help matters to waste this food – but the obfuscating resulted in a negative news article on the front page of the BBC News website.

    So well done to Iceland on this issue but let’s hope they reinforce their strong commitment with clear action and reporting.

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  4. I was also enthralled by the ad and thought it was brilliant that the fact it was banned made it go viral. It made me much more aware of the issues with palm oil and I now I notice it particularly when looking at product ingredients.

    I have a somewhat nerdy interest in the UK supermarket industry – it’s so competitive I find it fascinating to follow the strategies and moves of the different chains. It’s been notable how Iceland has performed well on several fronts lately, from having the best on-line delivery service (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/18/how-did-iceland-become-the-top-online-supermarket) to having their Christmas mince pies stocked at Selfridges – a benefit of their palm oil initiative (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/15/selfridges-is-selling-iceland-own-brand-mince-pies-and-proud-of-it).

    However, when taking such a prominent stance it is crucial that organisations back it up with actions. And recent reports have indicated that “supermarket giant Iceland has continued to sell own-brand products containing palm oil despite pledging to stop doing so by the end of 2018” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46969920). Iceland responded to this by saying that it continues to sell its inventory of frozen food which may contain palm oil but that freshly produced food does not. However, the BBC reporter was able to purchase freshly made produce such as cakes which listed palm oil as an ingredient.

    The irony here is that Iceland is a leading supermarket on this issue and it is fantastic that they are doing so – but by taking such a moral stance it is even more notable when they trip up. In this case, clarity about inventory being sold would probably be understood by most consumers – after all, it wouldn’t help matters to waste this food – but the obfuscating resulted in a negative news article on the front page of the BBC News website.

    So well done to Iceland on this issue but let’s hope they reinforce their strong commitment with clear action and reporting.

    Like

  5. Thanks for sharing this ad – which is indeed very powerful – and your views on it !The idea of making it as a cartoon is brilliant as it touches adults for sure – I was definitely moved by it – but it resonates also with children. Knowing how much kids influence buying behavior of their parents, the idea of targeting them with such a message is strategically sound for a supermarket. In fact, a recent national study in the US shows that 73% of parents tend to follow the request of their kids when they take purchasing decisions (https://www.viacom.com/news/kidfluence-kids-influence-buying-behavior). It would be interesting to know from Iceland if they were able to measure an impact on their revenues after the ad was broadcasted -even if later banned- and made available on-line. Regardless of this potential direct financial impact, it is very likely that this ad has triggered discussions within families about palm oil and the human demand on nature, which is already a win from a sustainability standpoint !

    The morning before reading your blog, I came through a post from Mark Tercek, CEO from the Nature Conservancy, about “Nine things companies can do to protect Nature at scale”. (https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/who-we-are/our-people/mark-tercek/nine-ways-companies-protect-nature/?src=social.multiple.site_globsol.cam_companies.link_blog.d_feb2019.info_stake)
    And it seems that Iceland is on the right track. I don’t know if they are ticking all the 9 boxes but they actively manage their supply chain, they are pretty transparent on their objectives and the challenges they face and they actively engage with challengers as shown by their partnership with Greenpeace on this ad. Of course, the question raised by Corporate Hippie about the alternative chosen to palm oil is essential but, I must say that I find reassuring to see companies moving beyond the status quo and trying new options, even if not perfect.

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