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What the “Rang-Tan” Controversy Teaches Us About Advertising

Originally published on AdLibbing.org on November 30th, 2018

If you’ve been on social media in the past week, you’ve probably seen this viral “Rang-Tan” ad. Produced by NGO Greenpeace in April, the 90-second spot was picked up by British food retailer Iceland as their annual Christmas commercial. In the animated advert, a young girl laments the presence of an adorable orangutan (which she calls a “rang-tan”) in her bedroom, who is messing with her shoes and destroying her houseplants. The perspective then switches to that of the rang-tan, who says that there is a human in his forest, destroying his home and kidnapping his family.


Iceland, who pledged to go palm oil free in April, adopted the spot as a protest against the oil and its production. As it was produced by Greenpeace, it was deemed too political to air, and was banned from broadcast by British advertising approval agency Clearcast. However, this has not stopped the spot from receiving international attention--it’s garnered millions of views and shares on social media and has sparked a fierce debate over the nature of political advertising and censorship. As advertisers with a strong commitment to social good, this controversy has interesting implications--and important takeaways.

Don’t Talk the Talk If You Can’t Walk the Walk

In other words, don’t tackle an issue unless you have a real stake in it. As we’ve seen with 2017’s infamous Pepsi backlash, attempting to take a stance on an issue that your brand is not personally invested in can result in serious damage. Even if you nail the execution of your issue-oriented campaign, if your brand is not taking tangible action to solve that issue, it is going to fall flat amongst consumers and paint your brand as shallow. The “Rang-Tan” spot is not a one-off effort--it reflects a brand ethos that Iceland is committed to upholding. They’ve pledged to go completely palm-oil free by the end of this year, and are urging producers and consumers to do the same. This is key to their campaign--if they didn’t practice what they preached, the Rang-Tan would likely have gone the way of Kendall Jenner’s peace protests. If you’re going to take a determined stance, your brand’s actions must support it.

Do Not Back Down to Controversy

Every brand can, at some point, expect to face controversy--whether it’s from angry commenters on Facebook to negative news coverage, there is no brand that can completely escape the critical eye of the masses. However, when a brand releases a campaign centered around a hot-button issue, controversy is absolutely guaranteed. While the “Rang-tan” spot earned international applause for its stance, it also received harsh criticisms from consumers and companies. Some people said that Iceland had no business forcing their agenda down peoples’ throats, while the palm oil industry lobbied for the ad to be completely removed from social media. However, Iceland has not backed down, and is continuing to demonstrate support for their cause more fervently than ever. No matter what social good cause your brand decides to back, it will likely attract controversy--and when it does, it is essential that you double down rather than yield.

A Ban is Not a Death Sentence

The “Rang-tan” ad was banned from air by Clearcast, but that was only the beginning of its story. When the spot was banned, millions of people were outraged that it was labeled “too political”-- commenters on social media cried that there were no politics involved, merely harsh truths. A petition calling for the reversal of the ban garnered nearly a million signatures from concerned consumers who were galvanized by the ad’s plea. It was only after it was banned that the spot received international traction and virality on social media. The UK has a telecommunications ban on political advertising, and while that same sanction does not exist in the United States, there are still plenty of times when TV spots are banned or restricted. If this worst-case scenario plays out, it doesn’t mean your cause is dead-- in fact, it might just be the start of a larger movement.

The “Rang-tan” ad went viral for a reason--the controversy created by the no-holds-barred spot caused an firestorm of social media activity, igniting an international debate around Iceland and its cause. While controversial advertising is not a viable strategy for every client, the lessons that can be learned from brands that choose to use it can be applied to any brief.

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