The way things work these days, there’s no need to wait until the big game to dive into the controversy surrounding Super Bowl ads. For media types, following the travails of the most expensive broadcast airtime of the year has long been an annual tradition. But in recent years, another tradition has begun to emerge: prefabricated controversy over rejected Super Bowl ads.
Call it “Banned Super Bowl Ads Inc.,” the process of creating a commercial spot that will almost assuredly violate gameday-broadcast policy only to then turn around and generate publicity by playing up its “too risqué” status.
SodaStream International Ltd. (NASDAQ:SODA) is attempting to milk that tactic for the second year in a row, although this year’s rejected ad is being served up alongside a very real controversy, one that is threatening the Israeli company’s reputation at a time when its stock is already tumbling.
You may recall that, last year, SodaStream -- which makes home-carbonation machines -- conjured up a commercial for Super Bowl XLVII that took a direct shot at the world’s largest soft-drink makers: the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) and PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE:PEP). CBS rejected the commercial, prompting a Twitter response from Alex Bogusky, the ad exec behind the campaign:
Soda Stream has the right to show competitors. So I wonder why this Super Bowl spot was rejected? Pepsi half-time show? http://t.co/msaSof9J
â€” Alex Bogusky (@bogusky) January 31, 2013
As a result, the commercial went viral. Today it has more than 5 million views on YouTube. And while CBS’ rejection of the ad did raise important questions about the right of an advertiser to call out its competition, it’s hard to argue that the ensuing controversy was not ultimately great publicity for SodaStream, whose stock soared in the months following the game.
Which is probably why the company decided to do exactly the same thing again this year. With Scarlett Johansson in the role of spokeswoman, SodaStream created a new ad in which the Hollywood actress follows up a sultry slow-motion routine by telling the competition, “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.” Not surprisingly, Fox Broadcasting rejected the ad.
Also not surprisingly, SodaStream has been playing up the controversy on social media. The header on its Facebook page currently shows Johansson along with the offending quote in huge text, and a call to watch the “uncensored commercial” on YouTube. SodaStream has also started the hashtag #SorryCokeandPepsi on Twitter.
But unfortunately for company, the banned ad is being overshadowed by a larger, decidedly more organic controversy. This one surrounds Johansson’s charitable work with the humanitarian group Oxfam International, which opposes all trade from Israeli settlements. SodaStream, as it happens, has its main manufacturing plant in a West Bank settlement seized during the Six-Day War in 1967. Amid escalating criticism and a clear conflict of allegiances over a highly polarized and sensitive issue, Johansson on Thursday ended her relationship with Oxfam, with both the actress and the group acknowledging the conflict of interest:
“Oxfam has accepted Scarlett Johansson’s decision to step down after eight years as a Global Ambassador and we are grateful for her many contributions. While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”
Before this week, Johannson had done charitable work with Oxfam for more than eight years. Her decision to sever the relationship has earned the actress both praise and criticism from pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian advocates, respectively.
Scarlett Johansson won’t be bullied by activists for Israeli boycott. Good for her http://t.co/WAB6mjlWyX
â€” Robyn Urback (@RobynUrback) January 31, 2014
Well I'm sure the Hollywood actress getting paid $ for sponsorship and not the NGO that feeds people is right about this particular policy.
â€” Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) January 30, 2014
But the latter group has been much more vocal. Using the hashtag #NoScarJo -- which is far eclipsing #SorryCokeandPepsi in terms of activity -- pro-Palestinian activists have been spreading memes of the actress Photoshopped in front of impoverished West Bank territories, sipping on homemade soda. (BuzzFeed did a roundup here.) One meme is a mock movie poster of “Lost in Occupation,” a reference to Johansson’s 2003 sleeper hit “Lost in Translation.”
â€” Francesca Spinelli (@ettaspin) January 31, 2014
SodaStream did not respond to a request for comment. While the ongoing debate may be drowning out conversations about yet another banned Super Bowl commercial, it hasn’t hurt the commercial’s virality. At last count, the uncensored ScarJo spot has 6.8 million YouTube views and counting. Watch it below.