The People of the Forest

When I was sent the link to the new Iceland (the British supermarket, not the country) ad a few days ago, I declined to watch it, as it was labelled as a C*******s ad. It being November, we are already well into the season of being bombarded with ads for all sorts of rubbish, and the tacky crap is strewn around streets and shops all over the city. I’m already sick of it. I’m trying my best not to engage with it. It is still for too early to even consider writing about the season of crass consumerism, the celebration of all things commercial, capitalist, and exploitative. I’ll be back it, I promise.

So, I ignored the ad until it kept being shared over the weekend. Apparently the ad had been banned. My curiosity began to be aroused. Was it a cheesy C*******s ad with an unexpected machine-gun massacre ending? Did it subvert the regular narrative and tell everybody that they are mindless drones, brainwashed into unnecessary splurging they can’t afford? So, I decided to investigate.

So it turns out at the ad was made in association with Greenpeace, and was a really well-made animation, voiced by the wonderful Emma Thompson. I failed to see why it was being labeled a C*******s ad, since there is no mention of the holiday in it whatsoever. It’s to do with the time of year I suppose. The ad instead highlights the destructive nature of the palm oil industry (and of course to highlight Iceland’s palm-oil-free products. This is a commercial ad after all).

Palm oil is used in a whole range of food and cosmetics. Have a look at the ingredients of the products in your kitchen and bathroom and see how ubiquitous it is. It’s production however, mostly in Malaysian Borneo, is an environmental catastrophe. It is endangering thousands of species, as well as making life untenable for the indigenous people of the region. The most well-known species endangered is the Person of the Forest, the orangutan. I first heard about this when orangutanophile, author, and genius Terry Pratchett spoke at the Galway Arts Festival, in 1992. Mr Pratchett, one of whose recurring characters is an orangutan, is a trustee of the Orangutan Foundation, and was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of one that evening. While he spent most of the event talking about his books, he mentioned the concerns regarding the magnificent ape towards the end of the talk. It is now 26 years later, and things have got demonstrably worse. Pat on the back, humans.

So why was the ad banned from TV? Clearcast, the NGO responsible for deeming whether ads can be broadcast, claim that the ad is political, and so say it is in breach of standards. I do wonder whether somebody in that office has a vested interest in the palm oil trade? How do they define ‘political’? This ad is in no way associated with any political organisation. Yes, it was made by Greenpeace, but Greenpeace is a non-affiliated charity, not a political party. And Greenpeace are not mentioned in the ad at all. If this ad is political, then isn’t any other ad where the company makes a statement regarding recycling or conservation? A lot of companies make claims about ‘going green’ (I’m using inverted commas because I am skeptical about a lot of them), should their ads be banned too?

What about ads linked to other issues? Ads for mortgages? Housing is a political issue. Why not ban these ads? Ads for health insurance? Health care is a political issue. Ads for private schools and colleges? Education is a political issue. How far can we stretch this premise? Capitalism is a political belief, and marketing an essential cog in its relentless machine, so why not ban all ads entirely?

Thankfully, by banning the ad, the censors have made it go viral. It’s been shared on all social media platforms and many Youtube channels (link below to one – I didn’t select the one from Iceland’s own page. In the end, I’m not here to generate clicks for a commercial enterprise) and been spread worldwide. Before coming to the poignant animated one, here is actual footage of an orangutan trying to fight a bulldozer to protect her* home.

And finally, the ad itself. Do please share both videos.


*I’m not sure of the sex. Maybe some zoologist here can help me out.

3 thoughts on “The People of the Forest

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