Supermarket's Rejected 'Rang-Tan' Holiday Ad Becomes Viral Sensation

The Christmas advert 'Rang-tan,' from British supermarket chain Iceland, has racked up million of views online since being rejected for British television. (Photo: Iceland Foods, Ltd.)

As we move ever-closer to the holiday season, big brands are unwrapping their seasonal adverts in an effort to pluck the heartstrings, spread a little joy, and, naturally, win a few more customers.

Iceland Foods, a British supermarket chain, decided this year to capture the public's attention by taking a stand against the destructive forces of the palm oil trade. Instead of producing their own advert, the food market giant rebranded an animated short produced by Greenpeace revolving around a young girl and a baby orangutan.

Previously released by the environmental org ahead of International Orangutan Day in August, the 90-second bit features narration from Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson. You can check it out below:

When the time came for the ad to be vetted by Clearcast, a non-governmental organization that approves advertising on British television, it was rejected based on its "political" affiliation with Greenpeace. This even though Greenpeace agreed not to have its name featured anywhere in the short.

"When we first found out it was going to be banned 10 days ago, we were absolutely gutted," Iceland managing director Richard Walker told Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"We thought we wouldn't have a Christmas campaign."

Social media to the rescue

With television no longer an option, Iceland took the only option left and turned the ad loose on social media. Within days, the heartwarming message of the spot quickly spread; reaching over 30 million views across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and sparking a petition against its rejection that is quickly approaching 1 million signatures.

In a blog post Monday, Clearcast denied that it had rejected the content of the ad for being too political; instead saying that its decision was a reflection of the law as it applies to political advertisers.

"Because the ad is based on material made by Greenpeace and has been promoted on the Greenpeace website for some time, Greenpeace need to demonstrate they are not a political advertiser as defined by the Code before Clearcast can approve the ad," the group wrote. "For a television ad to be cleared, the onus is on advertisers (usually via their agencies) to demonstrate their compliance with the Codes (rules). In the case of this ad, Greenpeace have not yet demonstrated to Clearcast or the broadcasters that they are not a political advertiser under the definition of the rules."

A message that matters

A scene from Iceland's 'Rang-tan.'
A scene from Iceland's 'Rang-tan.'. (Photo: Iceland Foods, Ltd.)

According to the Orangutan Project, almost 80 percent of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years due to palm oil cultivation, with 300 football fields of forest removed every hour for new plantations. As a result, it's estimated that the species could be extinct in the wild in as little as 50 years.

Iceland, which earlier this year became the first supermarket in the United Kingdom to commit to removing palm oil as an ingredient in 100 percent of its own-label food by the end of 2018, is thrilled that its holiday message has moved so many.

"It's been fantastic to see the story being widely shared and an overwhelmingly positive response for what is a really important message," Iceland Marketing Director Neil Hayes told the Telegraph. "We've been able to reach a huge number of customers without TV advertising, thanks to the level of support from campaigners, celebrities, the media and of course the public."