If you’ve been on social media in the past couple weeks, you’ve probably seen the viral “Rang-Tan” ad. Produced by Greenpeace in April, the 90-second was picked up by British food retailer Iceland as their annual Christmas commercial. In the animated commercial, a young girl laments the presence of an adorable orangutan (which she calls a “rang-tan”) in her bedroom, who is messing with her shoes and destroying her houseplants. The perspective then switches to that of the orangutan, who says that there is a human in his forest, destroying his home and kidnapping his family.
Iceland, who pledged to go palm oil free in April, adopted the spot as a protest against the oil and its production. As it was produced by Greenpeace, it was deemed too political to air, and was banned from broadcast by British advertising approval agency Clearcast. However, this has not stopped the spot from receiving international attention–it’s garnered millions of views and shares on social media, and has sparked a fierce debate over the nature of political advertising and censorship. As advertisers, this controversy has interesting implications–and important takeaways.
Don’t Talk the Talk If You Can’t Walk the Walk
In other words, don’t tackle an issue unless you have real stake in it. Attempting to deal with an issue that your brand is not personally invested in can result in serious damage. Even if you nail the execution of your issue-oriented advertisement, if your brand is not taking tangible action to solve that issue, it’s going to fall flat among consumers and paint your brand as shallow. Iceland’s advertisement is very polarizing, but enforces their stance by practicing what they believe in. They’ve pledged to go completely palm-oil free by the end of this year, and are urging producers and consumers to do the same. This is an essential aspect of their campaign–if they didn’t practice what they preached, they wouldn’t have been taken seriously at all. If you’re going to take a determined stance, your brand’s actions must support it.
Emotional Advertising is a Fine Line
There’s a certain advertising phenomenon that appears during the holidays–brands begin to roll out certain advertisements that are just so sad that you can’t bear to watch. While these brands mean well to inspire donations, social change, or purchases, the only thing they usually inspire is a channel change. The “Rang-tan” commercial fuses holiday and social change advertising using the tried-and-true emotional appeal, but does so in a way that doesn’t draw tears. Instead, it utilizes an adorably animated little girl and tiny orangutan to convey its message and inspire an emotional response. It shows the orangutan’s natural habitat and family being destroyed, and the tiny primate asking the little girl for help and a place to stay. The spot is incredibly powerful, and inspires a passionate response by walking the emotional line between tepid and too sad to watch.
Do Not Back Down to Controversy
Every brand can, at some point, expect to face controversy–whether it’s from angry commenters on a Facebook page to negative news coverage, there’s no brand that can completely escape the critical eye of the masses. However, when a brand releases a campaign centered around a contested issue, controversy is absolutely guaranteed. While the “Rang-tan” spot garnered international applause for its stance, it also received harsh criticisms from consumers and companies. Consumers criticized the ad for being too political, and said that it had no place airing anywhere. The palm oil industry is vehemently against the ad, calling for the ad to be removed from social media and the issuance of an apology. However, Iceland has not backed down, and is continuing to demonstrate support for their cause. No matter what social good cause your brand decides to back, it will likely attract controversy–and when it does, it’s essential that you don’t yield.
A Ban is Not a Death Sentence
The “Rang-tan” ad was banned from broadcast by Clearcast, but that was only the beginning of its story. When the ad was banned, millions of people were outraged that it was labeled “too political”– commenters on social media cried that there were no politics involved, merely harsh truth. A petition calling for the reversal of the ban has nearly a million signatures from concerned consumers, impassioned by the ad’s plea. It was only after it was banned that the spot received international traction, and gained virality on social media. The UK has a telecommunications ban on political advertising–and while that same sanction doesn’t exist in the United States, there are still times when advertisements are banned or restricted. If this happens, it doesn’t mean your cause is dead– in fact, it might just be the beginning of a larger movement.
The “Rang-tan” ad went viral for a reason–the controversy created by the contentious nature of the ad itself and the resulting ban caused a veritable firestorm of social media activity. While controversial advertising isn’t a viable strategy for everyone, the lessons that can be learned from brands that choose to use it are universal.