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

Raz Godelnik headshotWords by Raz Godelnik
New Activism

More 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.

Raz Godelnik headshotRaz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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