Soda Stream Super Bowl Spot Stirs Up Controversy From An Unexpected Source


Soda Stream CEO Daniel Birnbaum sees his brand as a David taking on soda Goliaths Coke and Pepsi, with controversy-generating commercials as his slingshot.

When CBS rejected last year’s Super Bowl spot – his company’s first – at the last minute because it showed Coke and Pepsi bottles exploding, Birnbaum reveled in the free publicity, including “about 5 million views on YouTube, which we didn’t pay for.”

The beginning of last November, Birnbaum voiced the hope that Fox, who’s airing this year’s Super Bowl, “will be a little more courageous than CBS” and air this year’s commercial as is.

They won’t.

History repeats itself

This year’s Super Bowl commercial “will be edgy,” he said, “because that is who we are. You have to be edgy if you are challenging and disrupting a big category.”

But that’s not why Fox rejected it. The supposedly “edgy” commercial is anything but.

As the Times of Israel describes it, “spokeswoman Scarlett Johansson extols the virtues of Soda Stream’s home carbonated beverage technology and, after strutting around a bit, ends by saying, “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” It’s a perfectly blah stand-up plus product demo, so that wasn’t the problem.

The first time as farce

The problem was four little words at the end – “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” – which Fox won’t let air.

As a result, Birnbaum got ammunition to start giving shocked – shocked! – quotes to the press again this year, telling USA Today that Fox’s rejection stemmed from the fact that Coke and Pepsi were major Super Bowl sponsors and Soda Stream, with just one fourth-quarter :30, isn’t.

“What are they afraid of,” he sputtered. “Which advertiser in America doesn’t mention a competitor? This is the kind of stuff that happens in China.”

So Soda Stream will edit out the four offending words, remix the audio, run the spot, get more free publicity, and get free YouTube views of what they’re calling the “uncensored” commercial, implying it’s something like what GoDaddy would have run.

The second time as tragedy

No big deal, life goes on.

Except for opposition from another, totally unexpected, source – the anti-Israel movement.

“To the emerging boycott-Israel crowd,” writes Commentary Magazine, Johansson’s role as Soda Stream’s “global ambassador” is “infuriating.” This is because Soda Stream committed the cardinal sin of having

a plant in the West Bank. Johansson probably thought this was a win-win: she can proudly promote an Israeli company (Johansson is Jewish) that also helps the Palestinian population by offering them jobs at higher wages as well as benefits and an on-site mosque.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) advocates have a problem with that.  In response to weeklong pressure from them, the New York Times reports, “The international aid and development group Oxfam” is

distanc[ing] itself from one of its own global ambassadors, the actress Scarlett Johansson, since she agreed to become the face of SodaStream, an Israeli company that makes products in a settlement built on West Bank territory…

In a statement added Wednesday to a web page on Ms. Johansson’s work for the charity, Oxfam said that while it “respects the independence of our ambassadors,” the group also “believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements…”

In 1852, Karl Marx wrote that “History repeats itself – the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In Soda Stream’s case, it seems to have reversed that order.


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