SodaStream‘s Super Bowl ad staring Scarlett Johansson has generated a ton of buzz, although maybe not exactly the kind the company was looking for when it cast the superstar actress. BDS supporters and Oxfam have criticized her for serving as the company’s spokeswoman because one of the company’s major plants sits in territory they claim is illegal for Israel to operate in. Yonah Lloyd, SodaStream’s chief corporate development and communications officer, responded to Blueprint’s questions via e-mail.
Why did you select Scarlett Johansson to be your spokesperson and featured star in the Super Bowl ad? Were you considering anyone else?
We were [looking for] a global brand ambassador, and were inspired by how Nespresso worked with George Clooney, which had quite a significant impact on their business. During the process we received a call from our French distributor that an “American” was in Paris and had contacted his office to find a replacement CO2 carbonator for her SodaStream. It turned out to be Scarlett Johansson’s people who reached out, and we soon learned that Scarlett has been a SodaStream user for years, with our products in her home as well as at her movie sets. We knew we now had our perfect choice, as she already loved our brand.
As someone who promotes sustainability and Israelis working alongside Palestinians, do you think you have been unfairly targeted?
The voices calling for a boycott of our products are conveniently forgetting that our facility in Mishor Adumim is 100% legal as per the Oslo and Paris agreements signed between Israel and the PA. And further, they are actually demonstrating a complete lack of humanitarian sensitivity to the thousands of people who benefit from the stable economic opportunity that we provide. Our employees are paid wages based on Israeli law, which means that our Palestinian employees make four to six times more than what is available under the PA. They also get a full array of social benefits – medical, maternity leave, etc. – almost unheard of under the PA. And no less important is the fact that our factory is a wonderful example of how people from all backgrounds can work, eat and celebrate milestones together in peace, an objective that will come from mutual understanding and respect nurtured in a stable economic environment that brings hope for a better life.
Was Johansson aware that there would be some backlash?
Yes, any Google research on our brand will show that the BDS story has been around for years so this was to be expected.
Does the controversy help or hurt the brand?
The SodaStream brand is thriving in 45 countries worldwide, continuing to grow strong, and our consumers don’t really relate to the media noise. They simply want a smarter, better-for-you alternative to the packaged sodas they have been buying.
Do you think the BDS critics are aware that you employ so many Palestinians? Should that fact trump their concerns about the location of your plant?
SodaStream is the largest employer of Palestinians in the region, with approximately 600 at the facility in Mishor Adumim, along with an additional team of 400 Israeli Arabs and 400 other Israelis from Russia, Ethiopia, Darfur, the U.S. and of course native-born. The BDS [camp is] well aware of this information, but clearly they have a very different agenda than actually seeking to help the people they claim to be representing.
USA TODAY’s ad-meter listed last year’s ad as 35th out of about 55. Is that something you think matters and do you expect to see a higher score this year?
Last year the media we received before and after the Super Bowl generated over 8 billion media impressions worldwide, which exceeded our expectations for raising brand awareness. This is what matters most to us, and we look forward to another great kick-off moment to a strong year of educating consumers about our brand and the benefits of our products.
Were you surprised that England would not run your ad last year and knowing that Pepsi sponsors the halftime show, and did you expect the first ad to be rejected by CBS last year?
Last year the TV commercial we wanted to run included images showing that when people use SodaStream it helps make bottles of Coke and Pepsi disappear. Did you know that approximately 1 billion bottles and cans are not recycled every single day? We are a beverage company, and Coke and Pepsi are our competitors, so we created an ad that uses what is called comparative advertising, a perfectly common way to help consumers understand why our products are better. The rejection of the ad in the UK and by CBS was simply censorship, likely due to commercial pressure they felt from those Big Soda companies that spend lots of money. It came as a surprise, and we ended up having to air a different spot. And the best part was that the original ad that we uploaded to YouTube received over 5 million views, so we accomplished our goal. However, despite not being seen on TV at the Super Bowl itself, the ad did run on other stations at other times, including Fox.
Do you think the major soda companies fear your product and do you think the ad will increase sales in the American market?
Coke and Pepsi must know very well that their current business model for bottling and selling soda for home consumption is antiquated and will be a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future. People love the empowerment that today’s consumer products give them, such as smartphones, and this trend is quickly becoming important in the kitchen as well. Indeed, Coca-Cola sales in the US are significantly lower now compared to the past few years, and that trend will likely continue. Our way is the future of home soda, and any soda company that wants to keep their brand in people’s homes will likely soon have to find a way to work with us if they want to continue to be relevant.