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By B.L. Ochman @whatsnext

In a PR coup, and a stellar example of brands taking a stand, supermarket chain Iceland Foods’ banned Christmas ad is resulting in massive earned media for the company and its cause. It won’t be seen on TV, but it’s gone viral on social media.

The ad, “Ran-Tan,” tells the story tells the story of a young girl who tries to help a baby orangutan whose home has been destroyed to create palm oil. The humans in the forest have killed the little orangutan’s mother and he is afraid it will kill him too. The little girl promises to fight to save the forest, and says “Ran-Tan” can stay safe with her.

But because the video was originally made by Greenpeace, Clearcast – which is responsible for clearing ads on behalf of the UK’s major broadcasters – ruled that it breaches rules against political advertising.

Richard Walker, the son of the chains’ founder, described the ad as “an emotive animation telling the story of rainforest destruction caused by palm oil production, and its devastating impact on the critically endangered orangutan….We always knew there was a risk it would not be cleared for TV but we gave it our best shot.”

The Banned Video Goes Viral

Iceland Foods Banned Christmas Ad

The store’s homepage says “Watch our banned video.”The company took to Twitter on Friday, urging people to make the video go viral. And that has has happened, big-time. By Monday, banned Christmas ad had more than 3.3 million YouTube views, and scores of stories in newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets including The Guardian, Fast Company, Good Housekeeping and The New York Times. The hashtag #NoPalmOilChristmas also is trending. It’s been shared by celebrities including TV hosts James Corden and Jake Humphrey. And, in just three days, (Friday to Monday) more than 550,000 people signed a petition to “release Iceland’s banned Christmas ad on TV”.

Cynics Call the Ban Orchestrated

The controversy and the outpouring of social media support, has caused some people to suggest that the store knew the ad would be banned. Rachel Cunliffe, editor of City Am Tweeted “I mean, would we all be obsessively talking about their Christmas ad otherwise? The vast majority of Tweets replied “Hey, cynical move maybe, but at least it is amplifying an important message.” and “Who cares? Every word is true.”

This is not Greenpeace’s First Food Fight

It’s also not the first time that Greenpeace has been involved in a food fight over palm oil. I wrote about their Facebook fight with Nestle in 2010. At the time, Nestle bungled the issue badly. A company representative responded to negative comments in a way that was snide, nasty, demeaning, snarky – pick your adjective. I’d like to think companies would respond differently in today’s social media climate.

B.L. Ochman is a seasoned Writer, content creator, strategist, and producer of podcasts and socially shareable video interviews. Let’s talk about how I can help your company.