When it comes to PR, it’s hard out there for a challenger brand. Even with creative marketing, a smaller brand is likely to be drowned out during a heavily hyped marketing event like the Super Bowl. That’s one reason why some marketers try to get their ads kicked out of the game for the (sometimes questionable) PR value of being able to turn around and publicly complain about the “ban.” Typically, it’s a tired and irksome strategy, especially when the trick involves a dubious pretend-sponsor like Ashley Madison or an annoying real one like GoDaddy. (Although this year GoDaddy claims to have created some commercials for grownups, so we’ll see.)
In my book SodaStream is different. The DIY soda upstart specializes in sparking controversy, and for some time its selling proposition is pretty bold; it claims to be helping to “save the world” by delivering a more healthful product, without the plastic bottle. For the second time, it has the the Fox network in a lather over its Super Bowl ad, this time due to a campaign featuring sexy brand ambassador Scarlett Johansson.
The PR groundswell wasn’t as easy as it looks. The whole thing nearly evaporated under harsh criticism about SodaStream’s factory, which is located in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Some have called for a product boycott, directing consumer ire at Johansson as the spokesperson.
But the real controversy that’s bubbling isn’t about politics, nudity, or sexist content. It’s because SodaStream dares to tweak Big Soda. Coke and Pepsi, naturally, are big-ticket advertisers who pour millions into ads and special events for game day, and SodaStream isn’t afraid to fling rocks. In fact, its entire approach is based on poking the giants, while tapping into the natural sympathy it evokes as a little guy. It’s a classic PR strategy and one that has worked well for the brand year after year.
In 2013 it submitted a commercial that blatantly targeted Big Soda by showing exploding Coke and Pepsi bottles being delivered to a supermarket. The spot was deemed too competitive and SodaStream ended up having to substitute a more tepid one, supposedly at the last minute.
These “unintentional” bans are done so often they’re in danger of falling flat. But for Super Bowl 2014, SodaStream has stirred things up again, this time with a softer sell. Wearing a bathrobe, Johansson talks up SodaStream’s benefits, sips it seductively through a straw, then flings off her wrap to reveal a form-fitting dress. She wistfully muses about ways to make the message “go viral.” The spot is sexy, sure, but there are far more daring ones.
The “ban,” of course, was a result of the words she uses to close out the spot…”Sorry, Coke and Pepsi.”
Yep, that’s the type of foul language that can get a commercial booted. Of course, SodaStream knew this. And it knew it could simply edit out the last line and let viewers see the “uncensored” version, where it’s well on its way to fulfilling Johansson’s viral dreams. Sweet.
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