Wishing You a Disruptive Christmas and a brand-defining New Year

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There are mince pies in the cupboard, festive tunes on the radio and fairy lights everywhere, which can only mean one thing: Christmas is on its way.

And with it comes the usual array of Christmas ads and the now familiar routine of how our household names take the opportunity of rampant seasonal consumerism to articulate their brand on every TV screen, billboard and online banner. For Tesco, it’s all about sharing food with loved ones, Aldi has made the humble carrot into a Christmas icon and John Lewis has maintained its reputation for turning its Christmas ad unveil into a seasonal event on a par with the Queen’s speech with the help of a global pop icon and a sentimental message.

Christmas provides an opportunity for marketing agencies to use big budgets and play for high talkability stakes with their Christmas ad campaigns, and we’ve all subscribed to this as part our festive traditions.  But when it comes to elevating that principle to a level that hits the news headlines and sends Twitter into melt down, there’s just one company that’s won the Christmas ad lottery hands down this year, and that’s Iceland.

The frozen food specialist has taken a campaign-based marketing strategy for some time, aligned to a clear brand and commercial platform of environmental best practice.  Pledges on recyclability of packaging and a ban on non-sustainable palm oil ensued and received widespread praise and media coverage.  But Christmas is the time of year when consumer-facing businesses can really leverage their brand equity and Iceland cleverly decided that utilising a Greenpeace cartoon short highlighting the impact of palm oil farming on orangutans would drive both awareness and sales.

It was an approach that was both inspired and disruptive, turning the usual Christmas subtext of ‘buy more’ into a more sustainable ‘use less’ message. What happened next, with a ban on the ad as ‘too political’ elevated the whole campaign to another level.  And in a masterstroke of agile marketing response, the retailer capitalised on the ban using social media to drive home its brand message and an anamatronic orangutan on the streets of London to capitalise on the news value.

Suddenly, a clip that might have gone unnoticed by many brought Iceland’s transition from a cheap and cheerful frozen food supermarket into the public consciousness, repositioning the retailer as a campaigning brand concerned with environmental responsibility and the integrity of its supply chain. The campaign has enabled Iceland to gain ownership of issues that are increasingly important to consumers and steal a march on its competitors in the process.

So, what does all of this have to do with the construction sector and how we engage with stakeholders and articulate brands in the business-to-business world? Well, quite a lot, actually.

Firstly, it demonstrates the value of rethinking the way things have always been done – even if ostensibly they still work – because there might be a different way to generate results with more impact.

Secondly, it highlights the effectiveness of adopting a disruptive approach to marketing; it’s not always the right decision but it can be worth taking a risk and using the power of the unexpected to stand out in a competitive marketplace.

And, of course, it also demonstrates the importance of brand and how brand values need to be clear and focused, enabling every other element of the marketing mix to support and strengthen that core proposition.

Whether you choose to visit Iceland for some palm oil-free mince pies this Christmas or opt stick with the M&S/Tesco/Asda etc. you trust is between you and your pantry. As you bite into your festive treats however, the chances are that Iceland’s bold and banned ‘Rang-tan’ campaign will make you think about the environmental impact of your shopping choices and what your preferred retailer is doing about it, which demonstrates the power of Iceland’s brilliantly disruptive thinking.

Sarah Reay