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The Ad CBS Finds Too Offensive for Tonight’s Super Bowl

Raz Godelnik
| Sunday February 3rd, 2013 | 8 Comments

SodaStreamMore than 110 million viewers are expected to watch the Super Bowl this year. Many of them tune in not because they’re Ravens or 49ers fans or even like football at all, but because they want to see the ads. You can’t really blame them – after all, companies and their advertising agencies work almost as hard as the teams to bring you their best ads during the game. Unfortunately, you won’t be seeing all of them tonight.

No, relax, there’s nothing wrong with your TV. It’s just that CBS decided to reject couple of ads. It isn’t the first time that ads for the Super Bowl were rejected, but unlike most cases when ads were rejected because the networks thought they were inappropriate or believed viewers might find them offensive, this is the first time that an ad was rejected because other companies might find it offensive.

This ad is for no other than SodaStream. The manufacturer and distributor of home carbonation beverage systems said last Wednesday that an entirely new spot, developed by Alex Bogusky specifically for the Super Bowl, was not approved by CBS. According to Ad Age, the was that the content of the ad “seemed to have concerned CBS because it was a direct hit at two other Super Bowl sponsors and heavy network TV advertisers: Coke and Pepsi.” CBS, on its end, declined to comment.

What is in this ad, entitled ‘Game Changer’ that prompted CBS to reject it? SodaStream provides this description: “Rival drivers from the two largest Big Soda brands face off in a supermarket parking lot. Preparing for delivery, they stack their soda cases one atop the other, their pace quickening, until they break into a sprint, feverishly trying to beat the other to the supermarket’s front door. In a flash, their plastic bottles disappear, thanks to SodaStream.” Here’s the ad:

Super Bowl viewers won’t be able to see this ad during the commercial breaks. Instead, CBS will air another SodaStream ad – a revised version of the TV ad SodaStream Effect, which generated controversy of its own when it was rejected in the UK because, according to claims, it contributed to “denigration of the bottled-drinks market.” Apparently, CBS didn’t have a problem in this case, despite the fact that both ads feature exploding soda bottles as dominant themes.

So why did CBS approve one ad while rejecting the other? SodaStream suggests that because “the two Big Soda brands are clearly identified in ‘Game Changer’ the ad was rejected.” So it looks like from CBS’s point of view, it’s OK to show exploding cola bottles in an ad as long as they’re not associated with a specific brand.

While Alex Bogusky tweeted that he’s bummed about the decision, I don’t think SodaStream is too unhappy. First, it saved $3.7 million it was supposed to pay for the 30-second spot. Second, it got a lot of media attention that I doubt it would have received if the ad was aired as planned. The banned ad has, at the time of this posting, received almost 2.5 million views on YouTube in just a couple of days. Third, the rejection helps position SodaStream as David fighting Goliath, or two Goliaths in this case, which can only help the company in its marketing efforts.

Alex Bogusky shouldn’t be too bummed, either. It’s true that an ad he worked on won’t be aired during the Super Bowl, but now it will get plenty of attention as one of the two ads rejected  (the second one is of Pornhub) this year instead of just another ad out of the 47 that will be aired. It also doesn’t hurt his own branding as a talented adivist (adman + activist) as well as someone who knows how to push the envelope creatively.

In other words, it seems that both SodaStream and Bogusky actually benefit from the rejection. This is not to say that they purposely created an ad that they knew would be rejected, but they probably were aware that the ad might not pass muster, given its nature. My guess is that they understood that either way, they could win – if the ad aired, they would get some attention because of its creativity and message, and if it was rejected it would get some, if not more, attention for the same reasons.

And what about Coke and Pepsi? They will have their own ads during the Super Bowl. No, they won’t be about Coke’s anti-obesity campaign or Pepsi’s focus on creating healthy foods, but just about the fun in chasing Coke or in having the newest soft drink. I guess CBS doesn’t have a problem with these ads – after all, what can be inappropriate about promoting soft drinks?

[Image credit: SodaStream]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.


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  • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

    Love the ad. But I do wonder what the impact is of all those little CO2 cartridges. I’m going to assume it’s vastly less than the number of soda bottles this avoids, but I’d love to see the full math behind it!

    • Catie

      I own a machine you take the CO2 to places like Walmart or Bed Bath and Beyond and you trade it in and they recycle them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/godelnik Raz Godelnik

      Nick – you can find figures on the carbon footprint of some of SodaStream’s products here: http://www.sodastream.com/carbonfootprint

  • Edison Ed

    Fabulous ad… at the end of the day, however, CBS is being pretty logical. They know where the money is. Coke & Pepsi still have a lot of it. Terrible how that works, but when we have giant corporations controlling our culture it makes innovation MUCH slower!

    For what it’s worth, I just might get one of those Soda streams!

  • Dave Shires

    Did you guys notice there was, in fact, a SodaStream ad last night? They just used generic soda bottles instead of Coke & Pepsi. Frankly I thought it was just as effective… no ones feelings got hurt and off you go…. do you think it would have been more powerful with Coke and Pepsi?

    • Amanda Philips

      yep, Raz mentioned in the article that they made a swap. I agree that the ad was just as effective – maybe the whole thing was just a stunt to get us all talking!

  • http://twitter.com/wnourse Will Nourse

    So all the ads in the past where Coke takes on Pepsi or vice versa were okay, but Sodastream’s isn’t? Hypocrisy of the highest order. Not that we should be surprised.

  • Deborah Montesano

    SodaStream has been excellent at leveraging the publicity to their advantage. I’ve read a number of counter arguments to the way this has been presented–including that the carbon footprint doesn’t take into account all the bottles required for flavors and mixing that are hard to clean and recycle, plus that the Pepsi and CocaCola trademarks were being used in the original ad without the permission of the companies.

    The biggest objection is the larger picture, however, which is that SodaStream is produced in an illegal settlement in the West Bank by an Israeli company and is the object of a number of boycott movements because of this.