Body that banned Iceland Christmas ad 'faced storm of abuse'

The body responsible for blocking Iceland’s Christmas ad had to remove staff pictures from its website, shut the company Facebook page and close its switchboard due to the level of abuse following the controversial decision.

As part of its festive campaign Iceland struck a deal with Greenpeace to rebadge an animated short film featuring an orangutan and the destruction of its rainforest habitat at the hands of palm oil growers.

However, Clearcast, the body responsible for vetting TV ads before they are broadcast to the public, decided it was in breach of rules banning political advertising laid down by the Communications Act 2003.

Chris Mundy, the managing director of Clearcast, has revealed that the body has been “drawn into a storm” of abuse as the issue made national headlines.

He said Clearcast received hundreds of calls, more than 3,500 emails and 3,000 tweets. “We were certainly unprepared for the deluge of contact,” he said. “Unfortunately, this included a substantial amount of abuse and resulted in the team feeling threatened.”

Mundy said that Clearcast had to shut its switchboard and take pictures of staff off the company website because they were being circulated on Twitter.

Clearcast also took its Facebook page down and has decided that even though the furore has mostly abated, it will not be returning to the social media platform because of the level of abuse.

“We took our company Facebook page down entirely,” said Mundy, in a blogpost. “It was intended to be a social bridge between staff and agencies, but it was overtaken by abusive comment. We’ve decided that Facebook isn’t a business-to-business platform and the page won’t return.”

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Munday also said that it was not prepared to handle the level of media interest in the story – “our initial responses to media enquiries on the first day weren’t as clear as they could have been” – and that the Clearcast team have very much been “collateral damage”.

Clearcast says that much of the issue stems from Iceland’s first tweet that the ad was not approved by “advertising regulators as it was seen to be in support of a political cause”.

Mundy says this is inaccurate as for one Clearcast is not a regulator are and it works on behalf of broadcasters to get ads on air.

Secondly, the content of the ad itself was not the issue that breached the political ad prohibition in the Communications Act2003, it was the association with Greenpeace which is deemed as a body “whose object is wholly or mainly of a political nature”.

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Even though the ad was unbadged Greenpeace had been using it extensively previously and that was what caused the ad to break the rules.

“As the broadcasters had decided they could not run the ad under the law, Clearcast had in practice no power to reverse the decision at all,” said Mundy. “The winner has been the environmental message that has been widely shared. From Clearcast’s perspective, it’s a shame that the team has, to an extent, been collateral damage in getting the message out.”

Earlier this year, Iceland became the first major UK supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from all its own-brand foods.

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