In light of the recent Iceland Christmas advert debacle, I wanted to look back at Christmas adverts from the past that didn’t quite make it to our screens. We’re only six weeks away from Christmas, so now’s the best time to see which adverts didn’t make it to the screen and why. From honey-roasted dog heads to apparently “overly political” themes, let’s take a look at the contenders.
You’ll have seen it hit the headlines recently: Iceland’s 2018 Christmas advert has been pulled because it breached political advertising laws. The advert depicts the story of a cartoon orangutan and the impact of palm oil on the animals and rainforest. Now, everyone is gunning for Clearcast (the body that approves adverts on British TV) for apparently stating that the content of the advert breaks advertising laws. However, this isn’t actually the case.
The advert didn’t breach the rules because of palm oil or the environment; it wasn’t approved because the advert was originally created by the environmental organisation, Greenpeace. Clearcast assessed the advert based on the rule that says adverts breach the law if it is "inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature". Therefore, Greenpeace had to prove it wasn’t a political advertiser before the advert was approved, which they weren’t able to do.
So contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t banned due to the content being political, more so that adverts can’t be created or sourced by parties with a political nature. So, no matter what an advert created by Greenpeace contained, it wouldn’t pass advertising standards to make it on to TV.
It may not have made it to our screens, but the response on social media (mainly thanks to a tweet by James Corden) has been truly epic. It has had three million views on Iceland’s YouTube channel in just a few days, 13 million views on their Facebook page and more than 90,000 retweets. A petition set up to release the advert on Change.org has already received more than 670,000 signatures.
The advert speaks to the public on current issues and shows their attitude towards climate change and environmental issues. It’s arguable that as the advert was “banned”, it created more traction and publicity when it hit the public. Iceland’s 2018 Christmas ad has already seen triple the views compared to last year’s advert. Was this Iceland’s plan along? Probably not, as managing director Richard Walker said that they were “absolutely gutted” that it was banned. However, thanks to the public’s stance and care for environmental issues, the advert has arguably had even greater success via social media and public interest.
Back in 2016, Thorpe Park wanted to promote their new Derren Brown-themed horror ride during the Christmas period (makes perfect sense, right?). It was scheduled to air on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but the big dogs at Clearcast pulled the advert as it was deemed to be unsuitable to show pre-watershed because it could be upsetting to young viewers.
It starts as you would expect any Christmas advert to: snowy scenes, dancing rabbits and a gorgeous backdrop. However, the scene is quickly compromised by the arrival of a pretty messed-up looking demonic apparition. So, it may not have been banned completely, but had to be rescheduled to late nights to avoid giving too many young children nightmares.
PETA are known for some hard-hitting campaigns to try and get into the heart of mind of a meat eater to try to change their perception: from a leather pop-up store showing the truth behind leather products and imagery of dying animals, to a baby smoking a cigar depicting the cancer risks of eating meat. However, in the Christmas of 2017, they took things a little too far. Although the message may have had good intentions, PETA were set to install print adverts on over 100 London buses, stating: “If you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a turkey? Start a new tradition. Go vegan.”
The message was intended to show that a turkey and a dog have the same capacity for pain and fear as our much-loved family pooches. However, the graphic image of a severed and roasted dog head deemed to be too offensive by London Buses, who pulled the advert from running. PETA UK wrote that it was “shameful and confusing” that the campaign was rejected by the transportation authority, considering “Londoners are bombarded with ads selling turkey corpses”.
“One hundred buses were meant to be serving up some food for thought from PETA this Christmas, but at the last minute, London Buses refused to run our advert on the grounds that it may cause offence.” Now even though their intentions may have been in the right place, the advertising standards state that marketing communications “must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason”. The policy also states that campaigns mustn’t use shocking claims or images just to attract attention, so it seems pretty likely that PETA understood why their advert was banned.
With that being said, surely a huge organisation like PETA would have known that it wouldn’t have been approved? Maybe this was the plan all along, knowing that it would attract a hell of a lot of PR and attention whether it was plastered on the side of buses or for its subsequent banning.
What was potentially one of the most poorly accepted Christmas adverts of our lifetime was Poundland’s risky campaign back in 2017. They ran a series of campaigns on social media, depicting a toy elf in some questionable situations. Termed Elf Behaving Badly, Poundland’s Christmas campaign objectifies women, has subtle undertones of sexual violence and “takes sexism to a whole new level”.
The majority of people found the campaign highly offensive (rightly so), and some even reported the adverts to the police. However, in a disappointing turn of events, Poundland’s marketing director Mark Pym stated: “The love on Facebook has been overwhelming, and that’s because it connects with our shoppers. We’re proud of a campaign that’s only cost £25.53 and is being touted as the winning marketing campaign this Christmas!”
This unresponsive comment shows that Poundland intended to cause controversy to stir up a PR storm. And yes, it worked fairly well in terms of attention, even if Twinings had to publicly condemn the advert on social media and state it not been involved. The negative response was overwhelming, especially as Poundland markets itself as a family-friendly and child-friendly store, so this campaign probably wasn’t the best idea.
Poundland tried to support their idea via a Twitter poll, showing that 82% of their followers supported the campaign, 33 million people had seen them and that they had gained 43,000 new followers since the start of the campaign. It may have had some success on social media, but long story short, after a lot of complaints by the public, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that they are offensive and should not be posted again. You can see some of the questionable graphics below.
When Aldi first aired Kevin the Carrot in their 2017 Christmas campaign, it only took one complaint to the ASA to get it banned. One viewer stated that the cartoon carrot in the film, apparently named Kevin, appealed to children and could potentially encourage underage drinking. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; it sounds ridiculous. It is a shame that it only took one complaint of what is a comparatively innocent advert next to other adverts that do make the cut. The Advertising Standards Authority stated that the ban was prompted by just one viewer and their fears that children may resonate with Kevin the Carrot and pick up a bottle of booze.
One of the main issues was that Aldi sold a Kevin the Carrot stuffed toy around Christmas that proved incredibly popular with children, inciting fears that this could lead to an admiration for the character’s drinking habits. A couple of important points to also consider, are that the ASA believed that the theme and musical tone of the advert was too similar to a nursery rhyme, and that some of the scenes within the advert would be perceived as particularly funny by a younger audience.
Clearcast disagreed with the ASA (Clearcast set out the rules but they have no lawful authority; this is where ASA come in), stating that there shouldn’t have been an issue as the advert followed appropriate scheduling restrictions for featuring alcohol. However, ASA still banned the advert from being shown. You can watch the advert below and see for yourself. Kevin has made a triumphant return this festive season with Aldi’s Coca-Cola parody campaign featuring the orange vegetable – and there isn’t a drop of booze in sight.
To finish off our collection of questionable Christmas ads, we had a look back in time to an outdated world of some of the worst and misconstrued Christmas print ads of all time. See for yourself below!