Seltzer Wars: SodaStream Exec Reveals How Scarlett Johansson Signed On for Controversial Super Bowl Campaign (Q&A)
With just days left until her big-game debut, the actress is drawing fire for backing the Israeli company with factories in the West Bank.
When it comes to our love affairs with modern-day conveniences, Scarlett Johansson's devotion to her beloved SodaStream rivals even that of Her's Theodore Twombly to, well, her. But it's unlikely that the star anticipated quite what she was getting into when she signed on as that company's first spokeswoman and agreed to star in a TV ad that will air on Sunday's Super Bowl.
The seltzer appliance company is headquartered in Israel, with its biggest manufacturing plant located in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim -- a territory seized by Israel in 1967's Six-Day War that Palestinians lay claim to. Critics of Israel have for years demanded a boycott of the company, and those calls have grown louder than ever in the days leading up to the commercial's TV debut. (In a separate and more minor controversy, references to competitors Coke and Pepsi were cut from the spot after Fox demanded they be removed. The original version was posted on YouTube on Monday; it has since been viewed over 5.5 million times.)
Last Friday, Johansson issued a statement in response to the mounting criticism, saying, "I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights."
Complicating matters is the fact that Johansson has also served for the past eight years as global ambassador to Oxfam, an international aid organization that opposes all West Bank settlements, which they view as an exploitation of Palestinians' land and resources and a violation of their civil rights. That conflict resulted in Johansson stepping down from her Oxfam post on Thursday. "While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors," the organization said in a statement accepting her resignation, "Ms. Johansson's role promoting the company is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador."
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Nirit Hurwitz, global brand building communications manager for SodaStream, about their high-profile partnership with Johansson, the pricey Super Bowl spot (30 seconds costs $4 million) and the art of navigating the fraught politics of the Middle East while trying to sell flavored-seltzer makers to an audience of over 110 million Americans.
How did the endorsement deal with Johansson come to be?
Scarlett contacted us when she was in Paris and looking for a carbonator for her machine, and that's how we found out that she has been a user and fan of the brand for years! Scarlett will be working with us to continue to establish the brand as a sexy, aspirational brand versus soda brands with old and outdated business models, like Coke and Pespi.
Has she toured the facility in Mishor Adumim?
Scarlett has not yet toured the facility, but we plan to host her there later this year. She knows of the great work that goes on there, building bridges between Palestinians, Arab-Israelis and Jewish Israelis who work together side by side in the factory.
How was the Super Bowl commercial conceived and shot?
The idea for the commercial was conceived by Alex Bogusky and David Littlejohn of the Humanaut Agency. We asked them to create an ad that would show consumers that there is a better-for-you alternative to packaged soda, in a way that not only highlights our benefits of less sugar and fewer bottles but also highlights Scarlett's role as our first-ever global brand ambassador. [We moved] from ideation to production in just a few weeks -- very fast in comparison to most other Super Bowl ads.
How did a factory end up on the West Bank? Has it been a difficult place to grow the brand?
SodaStream is an international company, with headquarters near Tel-Aviv and 20 production facilities worldwide. Our products are available at more than 60,000 retail stores in 45 countries. The factory located in Mishor Adumim opened in the 1970s as a military munitions factory, and SodaStream turned it from making bullets to making bubbles in 1996. This factory is joined by all of our others in being a part of our growth over the years.
You have been in business since 1903. What was the strategy behind launching a pricey Super Bowl campaign now?
The Super Bowl and its viewership of over 110 million people makes it an outstanding platform to truly reveal Scarlett as our new brand ambassador. Also, on a day when 90 percent of Americans enjoy soda while watching the game, we want them to know that a smarter and better-for-you option is out there.
Did the outcry against Scarlett from pro-Palestinian factions around the world, including Oxfam, surprise you or her? Or was this something you were prepared for?
The misguided calls to boycott our products have been around for years; there was no surprise that the noise got louder when we announced our relationship with Scarlett, especially because it is happening around the Super Bowl when the media is quite active. This attention is an opportunity to invite people who really care about peace to embrace our factory and join our efforts.
How are you advising her to proceed? Did you have any conversations with her about the criticism?
Scarlett has released a statement regarding her thoughts and we stand with her on what she said. We are lucky to have such an intelligent, well-informed and eloquent brand ambassador. Oxfam lost a great ambassador and it’s a shame because we all share the same cause. Sadly, they are misinformed about this particular factory. But, upon Scarlett's suggestion, we invited Mr. Raymond Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America, to visit our factory and meet for himself the 1,300 people he suggested we fire. Unfortunately, he has ignored our invitation.
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