Can I Borrow a Feeling?

What does Iceland’s Christmas Ran-tang ad mean for the Not for Profit Sector?

By Fiona Rickard - Dec 3 2018

Way back in 1999, Kirk Van Houten asked if he could borrow a feeling.  And despite that particular episode not going Kirk’s way, he may have been on to something.


The story ad and the rise of sadvertising

2011 saw the establishment of a new Christmas Advertising trend, the story ad.

Showing the benefits of the product and persuading the viewer’s rational brain of the benefits was no longer enough. Now advertisers were required to make their audiences feel something.

John Lewis led the charge with their first full-blown narrative ad, The Long Wait. Within days the ad had been viewed over 1 million times and helped generate a 9.3% increase in profits in the five-week lead up to Christmas.

And so, we saw retailers embracing emotional advertising like never before in a bid to win their share of the Christmas market.

Since then, a slew of cute kids, bears, penguins and snowmen have been melting hearts and opening wallets each Christmas.

‘Sadvertising’ has become a staple of the Christmas season. Every year retailers compete to create the most tear-jerking, heart-warming emotional advertisement.

Themes like family, loneliness, and nostalgia as well as a host of animated characters, are a key feature of some of the most memorable and successful Christmas ads. They’re like mini movies complete with product placement.

For years John Lewis was the one to watch, the most anticipated and watched ad of the season.


Enter Iceland...

But this year, something changed. Just like John Lewis back in 2011, one advertiser decided to take things up a notch. No longer content to sell feelings based on a fictional narrative, Iceland is tackling a very real environmental issue. And in doing so the supermarket are drumming up some of the most powerful and motivating emotions: guilt and anger. 

The destruction of the Orang-utan’s environment for the extraction of Palm Oil for everyday products is something that we as consumers can feel both guilty and angry about.

By aligning themselves with Greenpeace, Iceland benefitted from increased credibility as they took a stance on an environmental issue that matters to them.

But as you probably already know - due to the association with Greenpeace - the advertisement was banned for being political (whether this had been the goal from the beginning only the people in the Iceland and Greenpeace boardrooms know). 

But whatever the intention it wasn’t long before the ‘Streisand Effect’ was in full flow. All it took was one tweet from Iceland’s official twitter account to set the ad on course to go viral.

In a matter of days the ‘rang-tan’ amassed over 4 million views on the company’s official YouTube channel.

And how did consumers react?

With overwhelming positivity for the most part. Iceland was inundated with messages of support and encouragement from a delighted public. There was also considerable backlash against Clearcast who had deemed the ad unsuitable.

Of course there will be detractors who accuse Iceland of a cynical marketing stunt. But is there anything wrong with a stunt that helps an organisation spread a message about the devastating effect of palm oil on the environment?

And to the supermarket’s credit, they have a track record of attempting to address environmental issues in the way they conduct their day-to-day business. Single-use plastics and meat-free Mondays are just two of the initiatives the store has rolled out in 2018.

And given the reaction to their most recent crusade I’m betting it won’t be their last. But, what will be interesting to see is whether the increased goodwill toward Iceland will translate into an increase in sales?

Will standing for something result in outstanding profits? If it does you can bet your bananas that other retailers will once again follow suit.

Soon, just like Kirk, everyone will be asking to borrow a feeling.


What does it mean for us? 

And therein lies both the opportunity and the risk.  With advertisers searching for meaning the Not for Profit Sector has an opportunity to leverage big budgets and bring their cause to a wider audience.

For most charities, running a national TV ad campaign is way beyond their reach. But when a big retailer is willing to foot the bill the opportunity becomes hard to resist.

So could Ikea soon be partnering with a homelessness charity? Toy manufacturers and children’s charities? The list of possibilities is endless.

But do charities risk becoming subsidiary? The ‘rang tan’ ad despite being created by Greenpeace is now largely known as ‘the Iceland ad’. And does that matter if the end goal is the same?

The reason the Iceland/ Greenpeace partnership worked is because they found true common ground in their quest to tackle environmental issues.

The partnership was built on genuine synergy and wasn’t just a marriage of convenience. Both donors and consumers (remember, they’re they same people) will be quick to see through a cynical advertising stunt.

But if charities can find commercial entities that can align with their key mission and values then the future of advertising for the Not for Profit Sector looks very interesting indeed. 

Tagged with: AdvertisingEnvironmentTV

Fiona Rickard


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