I’m sure you have seen Iceland’s Christmas advert featuring a baby orangutan called ‘Rang-tan’. Voiced by Emma Thompson, the video highlights the dire plight of these intelligent creatures who are, as Greenpeace say, “literally dying for a biscuit“. This is because of the heavy reliance by many snack food giants – such as Mondelez who own Cadburys, Oreos, Philadelphia and many others – on dirty palm oil production.
You won’t have seen it on television however, and I expect you know this is because it was ‘banned for being too political’.
Only it wasn’t. Well, not exactly.
Good Result: Social Goodness Wins…
To date Rang-tan has had more than 5.7 million views on YouTube alone, with over 35 million aggregated views across social media. On Twitter there have been at least 100,000 original posts, with many celebrities sharing the advert, including James Corden and Julia Bradbury.
It’s been a huge success in using social media to raise awareness and influencing social opinion in a good way.
The social media coverage also led to an online petition being launched on Change.org calling for the advert to be screened on television. It has so far gathered well over 1 million signatures.
The result has been a huge surge of social goodness. That is, public awareness raised and donations for the good cause gained, which means the clear winner of it all was the orangatan, which everyone agrees is a fantastic result. Iceland haven’t come out of it badly either, despite being accused of having ‘engineered it’ to go viral.
Whether they did or not, the effect of the Rang-tan advert going viral just goes to show yet again what a force for good social media can be if harnessed by brands and good causes in the right way. However, it also shows what happens when a brand is unprepared and finds itself at the heart of a social media firestorm.
Bad Result: A Social Firestorm…
Because on the other side of Rang-tan going viral – the dark side if you like – sits Clearcast.
Back in the summer Iceland had made the decision to rebadge the Greenpeace film after they became the first major UK supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from all its own-brand foods. The supermarket knew it was likely to prove controversial as they had already met resistance to their zero-palm oil stance from within the industry. However, they decided to take the risk because, as Iceland’s founder, Malcolm Walker, said. “It would have blown the John Lewis ad out of the window. It was so emotional.”
In October Clearcast advised Iceland that they couldn’t clear the advert because it was in breach of rules banning political advertising. This was not because of the advert per se, but because it had been originally produced by Greenpeace, a body “whose object is wholly or mainly of a political nature”. For a television ad to be cleared, the onus is on advertisers (usually via their agencies) to demonstrate their compliance with UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAC Code). In the case of the Iceland advert, Greenpeace did not/could not demonstrate they are not a political advertiser under the definition of the rules.
The submission was referred to their Copy Committee, which is made up of broadcaster compliance specialists and observers from the IPA and ISBA. Their final decision was that the advert fell foul of the rule on political advertisers because of the Greenpeace association. It’s almost certain Greenpeace and Iceland knew this would be the case, as the rules are clear and hardly a secret.
Following this Iceland decided to put out a press release and then released the advert on social media with the following tweet.
And share it they did, in their tens of thousands.
However, as you can see, the facts weren’t clearly presented by Iceland in their press release nor this initial tweet, and their misinformation that it had been ‘banned’ by the regulators became the accepted story. And the villain of the piece was Clearcast, despite them not being a regulator nor able to ban an advert.
Clearcast were unprepared. They didn’t respond properly until the Monday after Iceland’s tweet on the Friday morning – and trust me when I say that a few days is a lifetime on Twitter. Social media tipping point had already been reached, the firestorm was in full swing, and consequently their statement was a case of too little, too late.
Managing Director, Chris Mundy, said that the company was then ‘drawn into a storm’ of abuse, receiving hundreds of calls, over 3,500 emails and 3,000 tweets about the advert.
“We were certainly unprepared for the deluge of contact,” said Mundy. “Unfortunately, this included a substantial amount of abuse and resulted in the team feeling threatened.” As a result Clearcast took down its Facebook page and has no plans to resurrect it in the future.
Solution? A Social Media Crisis Plan
Clearly there was a lack of communication between Clearcast and Iceland, which whether Iceland intended it to or not (they say not), did end up with Clearcast being vilified. Whereas the real villains – the producers of snack foods and beauty products who are still using unethical palm oil – have pretty much got away Scot free.
Which is not fair really, is it? After all, Clearcast were just doing their job, as they do week in, week out. How were they to know that this one decision out of thousands was going to end up as it did?
So, while it is too late for Clearcast in this instance, the value of having a social media crisis plan in place to avert a social media firestorm is a lesson that all brands can benefit from learning.
Indeed, if Clearcast had had one they would probably have been able to nip the firestorm in the bud, and certainly could have dealt with it a lot better. This is because monitoring the socialsphere can give clear insights in to what is gaining momentum before it hits critical mass, and so they would have had time to correct the misinformation by Iceland before it became the accepted story. This in turn could well have saved their staff from becoming collateral damage in a war that really had nothing to do with them.
As the Scout motto says, ‘Be prepared’. In the case of a modern brand that means having a social media crisis plan in place, regardless of whether you think it’ll ever be needed or not.