Banned From TV, This Conservation Ad Has Become a Viral Sensation With 35 Million Views

U.K. celebs and news outlets amplified its reach dramatically

'Rang-tan', originally a Greenpeace video made by Mother, was adopted by the U.K.'s Iceland Foods as its Christmas ad. Iceland Foods
Headshot of David Griner

When Greenpeace and agency Mother found a supermarket chain willing to help boost their animated message about orangutan conservation by turning it into a branded broadcast ad, it seemed like a storybook ending for a project with a lot of emotional investment.

But then U.K. advertising regulators, playing the Grinch role, declined to let the spot air after being submitted by supermarket brand Iceland Foods. At issue is what the regulatory body felt was a political message, likely because of the ad’s origin as a Greenpeace video against deforestation by the palm oil industry. Britain’s Communications Act of 2003 prohibits ads “directed towards a political end.”

Instead of derailing the marketing potential of the partnership, however, the regulatory ban from the airwaves has turned “Rang-tan” into a phenomenal hit, being viewed more than 35 million times online and covered extensively in international news outlets since the broadcast prohibition was announced Friday.

Within the first 24 hours, the ad was covered in 5-minute clips on British TV and radio news more than 100 times, written up by 126 news outlets worldwide and featured in 31 U.K. print news articles, according to Mother.

Voiced by Emma Thompson, “Rang-tan”—which initially debuted in August as a Greenpeace clip—tells the animated story of an orangutan appearing in a young girl’s bedroom. Initially annoyed by the chaos caused by the ape, the girl soon learns that the animal is fleeing the destruction of its homeland by deforestation and palm oil harvesting. The original ad urges viewers to avoid products using ecologically destructive palm oil, while the Iceland Foods version notes that the chain has removed palm oil from all its store-brand products.

“Throughout 2018, we have led the retail industry to take action in areas such as rainforest destruction for palm oil and plastic pollution of our oceans,” says Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods, in a statement. “This year we were keen to do something different with our much anticipated Christmas advert. The culmination of our palm oil project is offering our customers the choice of an orangutan-friendly Christmas, and we wanted to reflect this in our advertising.”

After being banned from British TV—which, unlike in the United States, is controlled by Advertising Standards Authority and a Committee of Advertising Practice—the ad received massive publicity and was shared by celebrities such as James Corden. According to Mother, the ad was mentioned more than 100,000 times on Twitter since Friday. The video received a total of 35 million views, primarily on Facebook, where it was shared extensively.

“Whilst our advert sadly never made it to TV screens, we are hopeful that consumers will take to social media to view the film, which raises awareness of an important global issue,” Walker says. “Our commitment to help protect the home of orangutans remains extremely close to our hearts. We are proud to be encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices, even without the support of TV advertising, ahead of the Christmas shopping season.”

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."