At first glance, it appears as if United Kingdom broadcasters should be embarrassed by the rejection of an ad for SodaStream. It looks as if they are kowtowing to Coke and Pepsi in order to ensure their ad dollars keep flowing. The picture is pretty troubling.
SodaStream makes household machines that turn tap water into carbonated beverages. The nixed 30-second spot shows people happily activating one of the devices, followed by explosion after explosion of plastic soft-drink bottles. None of the disintegrating bottles carries an identifiable brand, though some look like they have a contour shape with a red label.
The simple message is that SodaStream, where a user can stick with the same bottle, provides an environmentally friendly option versus Coke, Pepsi or other soda marketers. It’s a unique selling point for the brand and a clever, feel-good way to contrast it with buying all those plastic bottles (or cans, though they aren’t shown).
“Enjoy the taste. Do better than recycling” could be a SodaStrem tagline.
The SodaStream spot was to debut on a version of “I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here” earlier this month. Yet, Clearcast, the body that approves ads for a group of U.K. commercial broadcasters, including a Turner arm, turned it away.
It gave some disturbing reasoning at first, saying: “The ad could be seen to tell people not to go to supermarkets and buy soft drinks, instead help to save the environment by buying a SodaStream. We thought it was denigration of the bottled drinks market.”
That statement seemed as if broadcasters were willing to preserve their own interests at the expense of global warming, climate change and whatever else is ruining the planet. The message was later clarified. Hopefully, the initial denouncement was not an indication of true mercenary attitudes and the clarification was more than a smokescreen or capitulation to outside pressure.
The Clearcast update, courtesy of the Guardian, claimed the rejection had nothing to do with the environment. Rather, the spot’s “visual treatment denigrated other soft drinks, which put it in breach” of the U.K. broadcast advertising code, one rule specifically:
“Advertisements must not discredit or denigrate another product, advertiser or advertisement or a trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark.”
It’s hard to argue that the spot -- created in part by U.S. adman Alex Bogusky, who is on an anti-soda crusade -- takes aim at specific products. The two-liter bottles being reduced to bits clearly aren’t for orange juice or smoothies. SodaStream is launching a shot in the cola wars.
It’s easy to laugh at the British for being so uptight with their advertising strictures.
In the U.S., comparative advertising is as common as dogs and babies in Super Bowl ads. Imagine if a spot for a certain taco chain with a “think outside the bun” tagline were turned aside because of its denigration of McDonald’s. Or a paper towel brand wasn’t allowed to plug itself as absorbing more effectively than “other leading brands.”
U.S. networks have accepted the controversial SodaStream ad. A company representative said in an email that it has run on ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as Bravo, Lifetime, TLC and other cable networks.
Yet, maybe there’s something to be said for the British challenging advertisers to promote their virtues without slinging mud. Maybe impugning competitors contributes to a growing cynicism and disrespect in society, however indirectly. Certainly, America might benefit from adoption of the U.K. non-denigration advertising requirements when it comes to political spots.
In the meantime, SodaStream, which has appealed the Clearcast ruling, has been making PR hay out of the ad rejection. In the end, it will almost certainly receive more attention than if the ad had run as scheduled.
The Guardian reported Wednesday the company was set to air a spot with a black screen showing simply “If you love the bubbles, set them free” overlaid in white -- with a nudge to view the rejected spot on YouTube, where it has received at least 1.1 million views.
Certainly, SodaStream shouldn’t be lobbying for the British to lighten up with ad rules. Its used their restrictions to its advantage.