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Iceland’s banned ad had the potential to democratise sustainability

The news that Iceland’s Christmas advert - with its powerful, consumer-friendly sustainability message - has been banned is a bad decision.

Iceland’s advert shows a brand that is trying to do good work in improving its impact on the world. Earlier this year, they became the first major supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from their own brand products and so they are using their ad to campaign on an issue that is important and is actually credible for them to talk about with customers. Reducing usage of palm oil is a complex issue, and not everyone agrees with the action taken by the supermarket. However, it is such a shame this has been blocked as the traditional Christmas advert is a platform for brands to really connect with consumers, and the fact that Iceland chose to focus on sustainability is amazingly progressive.

It is also incredibly important for brands like Iceland to be making this stand as it democratises the idea of sustainability. The whole ‘brand purpose’ movement has for some time been in danger of becoming overly-directed towards a left-wing middle class audience who have the time, money and resources to be able to get involved (either by buying into a sustainable product at a higher price point or through making some form of compromise). Iceland has been broadening its base of shoppers over the last three years, but a large proportion of its customers are lower income families. Through the actions of the business, it is working to make sure it acts with purpose in the decisions it is making. Through this campaign, the brand is making sure that sustainability generally, and complex issues around the impact of products like palm oil, becomes more accessible

It is absolutely critical that big, mass-market brands are able to shout about the good work they are doing. If Iceland, and other brands like them, don’t have the opportunity to present and connect big social and environmental issues to less affluent audiences, sustainability and social responsibility will quickly become ’someone else's problem’.

Becky Willan is Managing Director at brand purpose consultancy Given London