Scarlett Johansson’s pro-Israel Master Class

SodaStream’s Super Bowl ad spot is in no danger of being taken prisoner by a clique of Israel critics; most Americans couldn't care less about the geopolitical implications of a carbonated beverage.

marco greenberg
Marco Greenberg
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marco greenberg
Marco Greenberg

The Super Bowl is all about strategy. And I’m not even talking about the rushes, tackles, and passes the two fighting teams have to orchestrate in order to win the big game. I’m talking about the ads: with a 30-second spot costing as much as $4 million dollars, companies that want to tout their products on the biggest stage in the world have very little room for error. And, so far, SodaStream seems to be playing like a champ.

By now, I assume you’ve heard of the company’s Scarlett Johansson ad, which critics of Israel are rebuking as an endorsement of the settlements. For some, this means that the new ad is controversial; but the vast majority of American viewers of the Super Bowl can hardly be bothered with such details.

The fact that one of the 50 spots competing for attention during the Super Bowl is for a company that has operations in the West Bank is about as germane for football fans—and I’m a big one—as the hiring practices in the restaurants on the Right Bank in Paris. While some of Ms. Johansson’s friends at Oxfam have voiced their displeasure over her choice of endorsement, most Americans are exhausted by Middle East conflicts, and could not care less about the geopolitical implications of a carbonated beverage.

If the other “team” were taking out a competing ad for the Super Bowl, I might have worried. If they had a line of picketers planned in front of Met Life Stadium, not good. If a future Super Bowl is held in Brussels, I’d be very concerned. But with home field advantage in New York City, and during this first-ever cold weather Super Bowl, Israel’s opponents ought to chill, rather than risk raising the ire of ruining the year’s biggest party.

But SodaStream’s anticipated victory is about more than just commerce. Deliberately or not, with all their financial, human and creative resources at play, many Israeli companies are finally boosting Israel’s reputation more effectively than foreign ministry spokespeople. Rather than the latter’s well-meaning but at times ill-advised attempts to put a good face on Israel, applying today’s business mindset to social marketing puts a premium on transparency, creates its own mantras and taglines rather than parroting the other’s often toxic language, and is always proactive.

This was evident from Ms. Johansson’s remarks, a master class in what some in our industry refer to as reputation management and crisis communications. Never shying away from the controversy, the actress jumped in with gusto, taking her defense a step further than most Israelis would feel comfortable doing and then, playing offense, delivering a strong pro-Israel stance while expressing nothing but respect for the Palestinians.

"SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine,” read Ms. Johansson’s statement, “Supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day."

Amen to that; perhaps the NFL should hire Ms. Johansson themselves to help address some of the recent injury-related controversies currently plaguing the game.

Of course, it’s too early to tell if the ad itself is going to be quite so eloquent at delivering its message. So far, the company seems to be playing the audacity card all the way—as is befitting a small corporation going up against soda giants and Super Bowl ad perennials like Pepsi and Coke.

It has scheduled its ad for the fourth quarter, and promises the kind of “edgy” spot that is best viewed after dark and after the children have gone to bed. It has also hired a tiny new ad agency out of Chattanooga, Tennessee rather than one of the New York behemoths, signaling, perhaps, that as they get ready to slay the Soda Goliaths, these Israeli Davids are thrilled to work with people who are equally small and smart and daring. And by getting their initial ad rejected by Fox, the game’s broadcaster—reportedly for ending the spot with Ms. Johansson taking a direct dig at the soda giants, which ruffles the feathers of some of the network’s largest advertisers—SodaStream has already won itself much free publicity before anyone had even seen its ad.

But the ad itself hardly even matters anymore. Israel’s detractors will bash it no matter how funny and creative it is, and most Americans, most likely, will treat it like they did most other Super Bowl commercials past, talking about it for a few days before promptly placing it in the recycling bin of popular culture. No matter: In taking this risk, in putting forward its best face—that of Ms. Johansson, but also that of an enterprising company—SodaStream has managed to elude its tacklers and is already allowed a little celebratory dance in the end zone.

Marco Greenberg is a marketing and PR pro based in NYC and the president of Thunder11.

Scarlett Johansson.Credit: AP



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