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Iceland’s Christmas Advert is ‘Too Political’?

Chloë Cochran, BA Global Popular Music

It is the 21st century, and I would go so far as to argue that everything is political in some way or another. In 1984, George Orwell predicted a world where a totalitarian, authoritarian government existed, changing society and history in order to manipulate the populous. Now I am nowhere near as cynical as saying we exist in this Orwellian state in this day and age, but I would go so far as to draw parallels. Advertising and marketing target our insecurities on a personal and a cultural level in order to encourage us to consume the latest trends. No matter what this does to the detriment of the environment, developing nations, fragile ecosystems and the health of people all over the world.

But what does it mean for an advert to be “too political”? Is there such a thing as being “too political” in advertising? Iceland’s Christmas advert was deemed just that by Clearcast, the organization which advises on the status of adverts made for television. The organisation stated, as quoted by The Telegraph and The Guardian on the 9th of November 2018, that it “had been unable to clear the Iceland ad because we are concerned that it doesn’t comply with the political rules of the BCAP code.” But what exactly is this omniscient code that apparently all adverts follow?

A code set out by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) states that ads must not be run on television if they are inserted by or on the behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature” or “an advertisement which is directed to a political end”. The law then goes on to state that “political nature” means many things but I would like to highlight the following: “influence public opinion on a matter which, in the United Kingdom, is a matter of public controversy.” In layman’s terms, this means advertisements are not allowed to be put forward by a group or individual whose intentions are to influence the public’s opinion on controversial topics.

I take issue with this for a myriad of reasons, so lets address some of them. Firstly, the definition of “political nature” in the law put forward by the BCAP is too vague, and can be manipulated to suit a political agenda. Secondly, I would argue that many adverts break this rule. For example, during the 2018 FIFA World Cup viewers were exposed to 90 minutes of gambling adverts, as reported by The Guardian, which is equal to about one minute in every six. Now these adverts don’t have a direct “political nature” but I would argue that gambling is a matter of public controversy. With 25,000 children under the age of 16 being addicted to gambling in the UK according to Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader for the Labour Party, it would seem that gambling adverts have an indirect political nature. Therefore, surely these adverts should have been banned under the same laws? If anything, is gambling not more politically controversial than palm oil?

“…laws regarding advertising are less concrete than they appear, and can be worked around when there is a financial gain.”

So this leads me to assume that the laws regarding advertising are less concrete than they appear, and can be worked around when there is a financial gain. It wasn’t the reimagined version of a Greenpeace advert that was the issue it seems, but the attack on palm oil, which is widely used by corporation in the United Kingdom. An advert which strives to inspire it’s audience to be more environmentally conscious should be embraced and celebrated, not chastised and banned due to legislation which doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced.

Photo Credit: Iceland

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