The decision to go forward with the ad featuring Scarlett Johansson for SodaStream reignited the controversy over the boycott movement targeting Israeli companies, particularly those like SodaStream in the occupied territories. It was an interesting decision of the company. While marketers often view any publicity as good publicity, the Superbowl controversy has made the company the most visible target of the boycott movement. The success of that movement appears to have been confirmed in a planned meeting of Israeli politicians and business leaders to discuss how to control the damage to the economy, particularly with peace talk faltering with the Palestinians. The Israeli government also criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for merely noting that calls for boycotts are likely to increase if these talks fall.
Many have raised the legitimate question of why Israel is the focus of such a growing boycott when counties like China, Syria, and Iran are not similar targets. Of course, the argument over the focus on Israel would only tend to argue for broader boycotts rather than dropping the one against Israel. However, advocates also note that companies like SodaStream hire Palestinians and that those workers support the company.
However, the boycott does appear to be having an impact. One the latest blows came from Norway’s Finance Ministry which directed its $810 billion sovereign wealth fund to blacklist two Israeli firms “due to contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict, through the construction of settlements in east Jerusalem.”
In addition, the European Union is moving to block funding to some Israeli organizations working in the territories.
Yet, Israel proceeded last week to demolish 36 homes in the Jordan Vally, leading to a public criticism by James Rawley, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories.
This backdrop makes the SodaStream controversy all the more interesting. The company wanted to make a pitch in the biggest market of the year but succeeded in putting itself front and center over the boycott. Its spokesperson, Scarlett Johansson, was basically shown the door by Oxfam, and now the product is linked with alleged violations of international law. I cannot believe that that is a good thing in the long run and it raises the question of whether the company would have been better to keep a lower profile. Replacing a dig at Coke and Pepsi with the tagline “I just love helping people” is likely to be viewed as a tragically ironic twist in the midst of complaints over international law violations.
SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum is quoted as saying “With this Super Bowl commercial, we are presenting a challenge to the American People. You can make your own soda at home that is better for you and the planet.” That is not likely the challenge that is viewed as coming out of this commercial controversy.
Putting aside the alleged violations of international law and the legitimacy of the boycott, there remains one problem with the commercial that should unite us all: it was really bad. It was not funny or creative — though that seemed to fit in with the rest of a disappointing crop of commercials for those of us who look forward to the competition among ad companies.