Why the Iceland Christmas Advert has not been “banned”

Category: Media

Duncan White, Head of Nash & Co’s Media team, provides clarification on Iceland’s Christmas advert.

The decision not to broadcast the Iceland Christmas advert about an orangutan telling a young girl that his home has been destroyed by the harvesting of palm oil, has been met with widespread indignation, with many media outlets reporting that the advert has been “banned”. However there has been no ban on the broadcast of this advert – only the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), as the advertising regulator, can ban a television advert and so far it has had no role in this decision.

The ASA is the UK’s independent advertising regulator. The ASA ensures adverts across UK media abide by rules relating to advertising. These rules are written by Committee of Advertising Practice, known as CAP. The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) applies to all advertisements on radio and television. You can view the BCAP Code here: https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/advertising-codes/broadcast-code.html

Clearcast is the body responsible for clearing television adverts on behalf of the major commercial broadcasters in the UK. Unlike the ASA, Clearcast is not an advertising regulator and does not have the authority to ban advertisements. Before an advert is shown by a major commercial broadcaster, Clearcast checks the advert against the BCAP Code to ensure it is compliant. The vast majority of television adverts are pre-cleared in this way before they are broadcast.

In its assessment of the Iceland Christmas advert, Clearcast considered the advert to be in breach of Rule 7.2.1 of the BCAP Code which places restrictions on political advertising. In particular Rule 7.2.1 says an advert contravenes the prohibition on political advertising if it is “an advertisement which is inserted by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature”. Clearcast stated the Iceland Christmas advert submitted to them for clearance was a film by Greenpeace which had appeared on the Greenpeace website for “a number of months”. Accordingly, it assessed the advert as not being compliant with the BCAP Code.

To be clear this article is not a discussion about whether Clearcast were correct in their assessment of the Iceland Christmas advert, nor does the author disagree in any way with the important message about the destruction of rainforest habitat due to palm oil growers. Rather this article is about advertising regulation and an attempt to clarify the incorrect reporting around the decision not to broadcast the Iceland Christmas advert.

Under the terms of their broadcasting licences, television broadcasters must take reasonable steps to ensure that the adverts they broadcast comply with the BCAP Code. The reason the Iceland Christmas advert will not be broadcast is not because it is “banned”, but because Clearcast have assessed it as not being compliant with the BCAP Code. As a result, the television broadcasters (with their broadcasting licences in mind) will not broadcast it.