PR360: Iceland says PR in 'privileged' position to drive social causes and 'save the planet'

Last Christmas a supermarket's campaign to remove palm oil from its supply chain placed de-forestation and sustainability into the hearts and minds of millions of consumers. Here's how the retailer went trying to achieve its social purpose goal.

Iceland’s Rang-Tan ad featured an animated orang-utan lost in a child’s bedroom that told the story of the damage caused to the rainforest in the quest for palm oil.

Created by Mother on behalf of Greenpeace, the ad sought to convey the message to corporate producers of products such as chocolate and shampoo that palm oil can be created in a sustainable manner without ‘exponential growth’ in rainforest destruction.

PR360: Procurement 'shit show' dehumanises the 'broken' pitch process'

The ad quickly went viral online after the TV ad vetting body Clearcast banned it from air for being ‘directed towards a political end’. Despite receiving huge uptake on social media it spawned a petition backed by consumers and celebrities, who called for a U-turn on its 'ban' from broadcast.

Ar PR360 on Thursday, Hill Berg, head of sustainability and CSR at Iceland, described how the supermarket used social purpose to set the company apart from its competitors by committing to remove palm oil from its own-label food by the end of 2018.

Berg said during the two-day PR360 conference that 4,000 football fields will be cut down in the pursuit of palm oil in Indonesia alone, and painted a bleak picture of the multiple crisis’ facing the planet, including climate change and climate refugees, to the plastic pandemic in our seas and oceans.

She said the PR industry was in a privileged position to do something about it by communicating social purpose and driving systematic change both with consumers and within industries.

The campaign, for the most part, was a huge success, with 7.8 billion earned OTS, 80 ad million views, 1,400 pieces of coverage and a 10,000 per cent increase in Google searches for ‘palm oil’, while thousands of schools contacted the company to find out how they could teach their students about deforestation and what can be done about it.

However an investigation by the BBC in January this year found more than 20 Iceand own-label foods still contained palm oil.

"We totally failed in terms of communications and the investigation was a huge lesson in transparency," Berg admitted. 

She said that Iceland should have been honest about the difficulties they faced convincing all suppliers to remove the product from their supply chains in time to meet their pledge.

"It’s apparently really hard to take out of garlic bread," she said, and ended with a message for brands and agencies.

"But when it comes to corporate activism, you really need to pick your cause: be big, bold and brave."

More from PR360:

PR360: Procurement 'shit show' dehumanises the 'broken' pitch process

BBC media editor Amol Rajan: '95 per cent of comms from PRs is crap'

PR360: 'Our industry has not risen to the age of purpose'

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