'We're being demonised': SodaStream chief speaks out over censored Scarlett Johansson advert ahead of Super Bowl


Maria Tadeo
Monday 03 February 2014 00:46 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


In a scene from SodaStream's Super Bowl commercial, actress Scarlett Johansson turns to the camera and wonders: 'If only I could make this message go viral' before slipping into a satin dress.

The answer is simple: you need to get your advert censored ahead of a huge sporting event and your global brand ambassador slammed by a humanitarian group.

SodaStream, an Israeli maker of fizzy drink machines, has managed to pull off the ultimate PR coup by making its television advert go viral before the Super Bowl XLVIII football game airs tonight.

First, Scarlett Johansson, SodaStream's global ambassador and star of the controversial ad, came under fire for supporting the company, which operates in the occupied West Bank, from Oxfam International, which opposes all trade from Israeli settlements arguing that it is illegal and denies Palestinian rights.

But it seems the actress prefers the bubbles.

On Thursday, Johansson, 29, announced she was ending her relationship with the charity after eight years, citing "fundamental differences of opinion" with the humanitarian group.

But for chief executive Daniel Birnbaum all publicity is good publicity, although he admits the location of the factory in a West Bank industrial zone near Jerusalem is a "pain".

He told The Independent: "We have to deal with the media and activist who too often demonise us just because of the location of the factory."

Birnbaum says there are no financial incentives in keeping production in Mishor Adumim. He insists that his company has no political agenda and it provides equal opportunities for all employees.

"We purchase special health insurance for our 500 Palestinian employees so that we can be sure they have coverage for things like emergency surgery and organ transplants," he added.

Last year, there were 399 settler attacks on Palestinians, up from 369 in 2012, resulting in 146 injuries, and 306 attacks on private Palestinian property, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, signalling settlement violence is on the rise.

Actress Scarlett Johansson poses next to SodaStream chief executive Daniel Birnbaum. The commercial is set to air tonight as part of the Super Bowl's highly anticipated advertising break.
Actress Scarlett Johansson poses next to SodaStream chief executive Daniel Birnbaum. The commercial is set to air tonight as part of the Super Bowl's highly anticipated advertising break. (GETTY IMAGES)

With just hours to go until the kick-off, Birnbaum went on to accuse Oxfam of providing funding to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, citing documents from the Women's Coalition for Peace, which describes itself as "a feminist organisation against the occupation of Palestine".

Speaking at a conference, he said: "We found out that some of the Oxfam branches have been donating funds to the BDS, and this money is used to demonise and attack Israel."

Oxfam denied the allegations saying it does not provide funding for promotion of the BDS movement or activities that call for the boycott of Israel. However, it reiterated that it opposes trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

A spokesperson said: "It's not about their labour practices or conditions for workers in the factory, it's about the factory's location in an illegal settlement built on the land and resources of Palestinian communities."

But that's just one part of the mix.

According to SodaStream, FOX executives warned the company it would have to edit out a line where Johansson whispers: "Sorry Coke and Pepsi", or risk being pulled out of the TV event altogether. The 'reject bowl' controversy gave the advert the extra fizz it needed to go viral.

"FOX gave us the gift of a censored ad," Birnbaum told The Independent. "My parents taught me that when I get a gift, I should accept it and graciously say thank you."

He added: "That said, if FOX would let us off the hook and return our money, we would exit."

Birnbaum, who has been at the helm of the company since 2007, claims the US network is too scared to upset drinks giant Pepsi-Cola, which is sponsoring this year's half-time show, and Coca-Cola, one of the biggest spenders in the Super Bowl's so-called ad war.

Birnbaum denies stirring controversy is part of its business strategy, and hopes the conversation shifts from Scarlett to the product, which adds effervescence and flavour to water, and sells for£57 in the UK. So far, the advert has been watched more than eight million times since it was posted 27 January.

"Had we wanted to be censored, we would have made sure to be more aggressive and denigrate our competitors, or at least show their logos and product," he added.

For SodaStream, the Super Bowl remains a golden opportunity to finally crack the US market, where it has struggled to cement its position against rivals Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola.

The company has brokered deals everywhere in the US, from WalMart to Bloomingdales, but recently disappointed investors after it issued a profit warning slashing its full-year net income to $41.5 million from a previous target of $54 million, citing a challenging holiday season in the US. Europe still accounts for 52 per cent of its total sales.

But with more than 100 million Americans set to watch the game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks tonight, SodaStream may finally be able to get into their homes with a little help from Scarlett.

The SodaStream ad is scheduled to appear during the fourth quarter of the game tonight.

Watch the uncensored Soda Stream ad

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