SodaStream Debuts at Super Bowl, in Spite of Coke, Pepsi, and Politics

Soda Stream

A supermarket parking lot at night. Two deliverymen arrive -- one from Coke (KO), the other Pepsi (PEP) -- and unload their wares, eying each other competitively, while "Dueling Banjos" plays in the background. As the music accelerates, they race to fill their handtrucks and head for the store, struggling to speedwalk behind so much soda.

Just as the man in blue reaches the entrance, the Pepsi bottles on his handtruck explode, spewing cola and stopping him in his tracks. Cut to a well-dressed man in a darkened room, who has apparently activated some sort of countertop detonator. He presses it again, creating a storm of carbonation; the Coke man's handtruck erupts as well.

As the befuddled minions of Big Soda stand helpless, soaked with cola, the well-dressed man enjoys a glass of pop from his mysterious appliance. The remaining inventory in the Coke and Pepsi trucks blows up. The man in red comforts his rival; they are reconciled by mutual defeat.

"With SodaStream," a voiceover intones, "we could have saved 500 million bottles on game day alone. If you love the bubbles, set them free."

That's how SodaStream (SODA) -- an Israel-based manufacturer of do-it-yourself soft drink machines -- wanted to impress the U.S. market, the world's largest consumer of soda: with a $3.5 million ad buy for Super Bowl Sunday, aggressively positioning itself as a relatively green alternative to the brands that have long dominated nonalcoholic American drinking. But SodaStream's confrontational stance, denigrating the competition -- literally exploding their products -- was more than this year's Super Bowl broadcaster was willing to accept. CBS vetoed the ad, reportedly in deference to the big-ticket sponsors SodaStream was dissing. "But SodaStream is still in the game with an older spot we tweaked," said the adman tasked with crafting the company's Super Bowl debut.

Arguably, it wasn't a great commercial anyhow. The connection between the bottle detonations and the SodaSteam machine is unclear at first, and remains confusing. And the contrast between the chubby Coke and Pepsi representatives and the handsome SodaStream user is a cheap shot, although it makes sense in light of SodaStream's claim that beverages made with its system are healthier than sweeter, higher-calorie drinks sold in bottles and cans.

Provocativeness being an engine of publicity, SodaStream is now showing the rejected spot on its website. Online ads invite users to view it with the come-on: "Watch the SodaStream commercial they wouldn't let you see during the big game." At least one writer has been persuaded, declaring himself "shocked that CBS would ban a spot for being too competitive" and asking, "where is the outrage?"

The answer is, elsewhere -- aroused not by CBS's deference to the deep-pocketed, bottle-dispersing behemoths of cola, but rather by SodaStream's ties to the Israeli occupation. The company's main production facility is located in a West Bank settlement; Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have long been considered illegal under international law, a view recently affirmed by a panel of judges working under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.

CEO Daniel Birnbaum told the Times of Israel that SodaStream doesn't "strengthen or support the occupation. What we're doing is taking a facility in the occupied territory and giving Palestinians a career and economic benefits."

"I've got to laugh when they think we're on the wrong side of this," Birnbaum said of anti-occupation activists. "We're part of the solution. We build bridges, not walls."

Whether or not SodaStream supports the occupation, pro-Palestinians activists contend that the converse is certainly true. According to a report by Who Profits?, a research project of an Israeli peace group, the company's "success is based, at least in part, on the structural advantages that production in Israeli settlements enjoys": "low rent, special tax incentives, lax enforcement of environmental and labor protection laws, as well as additional government support." And SodaStream pays property taxes that are used to fund "the growth and development" of the settlement that hosts its factory.

The company employs around 900 Palestinians; the use of cheap local labor, where job opportunities are scarce, has long been a source of controversy. Palestinians who've worked for SodaStream have complained of "low wages and poor working conditions, and about 'revolving door' employment policies," Who Profits? reported in January 2011. In an email, Birnbaum said SodaStream pays "full Israeli wages, four or five times the wages common in the Palestinian Authority."

According to Birnbaum, the interactions enabled by SodaStream's West Bank production carry other benefits: they are conducive to an eventual resolution of the conflict, since his workers see a side of Israel other than the settlers and Border Police. "If there were another hundred companies like us extending a hand to the other side, we would have a peace agreement, because everybody wants it, including the Palestinians." He says SodaStream provides its Arab workers "respectable employment opportunities ... We 'even' [sic] purchase medical insurance for them from a private Israeli company, because I am not confident that the money we pay to the Palestinian Authority for such social benefits will actually be used for medical insurance."

With the occupation now more than 45 years old, pro-Palestinian activists aren't persuaded. "Palestinians are not asking for charity," said Anna Baltzer, national organizer of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. "They are calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and companies like SodaStream until they end their complicity with Israel's discriminatory practices. Thousands around the world have joined the campaign to boycott SodaStream, including an exciting new, diverse coalition of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations." Baltzer also noted that people in several countries have created spoof ads highlighting SodaStream's connection to the occupation.

SodaStream has of course known the risks of being a settlement producer. In a 2011 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company described its West Bank factory as a source of "rising political tensions and negative publicity," which "may negatively impact demand for our products or require us to relocate our manufacturing activities to other locations." Arguing against relocation: the cost of moving, and the loss of tax benefits.

In that same document, SodaStream disclosed that its business strategy focuses on an increased presence in the U.S., which it said "can become one of our largest markets within a number of years." Its products are already sold at Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT), Costco (COST), Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY), Macy's (M), Williams-Sonoma (WSM), Crate & Barrel, and Wegman's. Americans are not known for their sympathy for the Palestinian cause; right now, potential offense to Coke and Pepsi seems like a larger PR obstacle than any political concern.

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"Americans are not known for their sympathy for the Palestinian cause;...." Myself included. As an American Christiian, I understand God's covenant with Abraham and his decendants, the jewish people. What I don't understand is why the musilums can't figure it out.

February 05 2013 at 4:36 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to loisinstl's comment
Scott Conner

The Golden Rule has Jesus explaining his message, when asked, "Who is my neighbor" His answer makes it clear that your neighbor is anyone, regardless of faith, tribe or nationality. Jesus also commands you to love your enemies. Now if you can explain the Book of Joshua in light of the Good Samaritan, you will have squared a circle that no philosopher have ever been able to rationalize.

February 06 2013 at 8:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

"Thousands around the world have joined the campaign to boycott SodaStream, including an exciting new, diverse coalition of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations."

This sentence really makes my blood boil. I would expect this garbage in al jazeera, not dailyfinance. It sounds like the author is celebrating the union of a bunch of twisted people gathering for a twisted cause. What's next, calls for another jihad flotilla?

February 05 2013 at 4:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I'm trying to cut back dramatically on my soda drinking these days, but has anyone ever actually tried this stuff? Does it taste ok?

February 05 2013 at 4:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Mike's comment

I have never tried it, but everyone I know who has one says you can not get refills on the Co2 when you run out. They have a special nozzle that only their specified dealers can fill the tanks. The supliers never have it in stock and you have to wait, or buy replacement canisters online and ship your old canisters back. Ends up being not to cheap after all of that. And all of their flavors, including the non diet regular versions have aspartame in them.

February 05 2013 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to kab530's comment

Bed bath &beyond have canister exchanges for 15.00.Staples and KOHLS ALSO HAVE THEM.

February 05 2013 at 11:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

they are all over....don't know why u can't find

February 06 2013 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

bought it a while ago, and it really is good....especially the root beer....and u can make water with lemon and such with bubbles....hahaha...yes, it is good and costs nothing .. yet tastes like the expensive sodas..have a band that practices here and they all keep going back for more with each break.. Why the hell politics has to get into everything I do not know....but, I like it and will use it for the product it is...and it is great.....I am, by the way, a staunch Conservative, if anyone cares....don't know if I care if anyone does though.

February 06 2013 at 12:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bobbi's comment
Scott Conner

even conservatives are supposed to follow the Golden Rule, and to "Love your neighbor as yourself" Jesus' "Good Samaritan" teaches that your neighbor is your neighbor regardless of faith, tribe or nationality. Further, Jesus commands you to love your enemies. You may be conservative, but you're no Christian.

February 06 2013 at 8:38 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down

I looked into the "boycott, divest, and sanction" campaign from this organization calling itself U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation. As a result, I intend to purchase quite a few SodaStream machines as gifts for my friends, and I intend to go out of my way to patronize other companies they oppose. Sometimes boycotts backfire.

February 05 2013 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to JC's comment

Kudos to you JC!

February 05 2013 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


February 05 2013 at 2:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

this is true cbs liberal bias as usual. imagine if the game was on nbc I can hear pmsnbc now

February 05 2013 at 2:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

this product only promotes more soda consumption which is not a good thing

February 05 2013 at 12:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I was watching a sales presentation where they said that the bottles were not dishwasher safe. There have already been warnings about reusing regular water bottles as bacteria builds up. It is a matter of personal preference (like the decision to purchase any product); however, I'll stick to buying my diet soda when I want a soda. I don't need another appliance taking up precious space in my kitchen.

February 05 2013 at 4:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

With Coke and Pepsi soda formulas to go stale in a couple months in the bottles rendering their product a costly waste, this soda stream idea actually is pretty good, politics aside. Best is that you can get a CO2 adapter and buy cheap CO2 from a local medical gas supply house for so much cheaper than a refill.

February 05 2013 at 3:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"They are calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and companies like SodaStream until they end their complicity with Israel's discriminatory practices."

Is this "The Onion?" I have to laugh. Israel is the only country in the ME region that is not discriminatory. The war to destroy Israel started with discrimination against Jews, and that is the sole reason it continues to this day. And those who boycott Israel travel hand-in-hand with those who hate Israel because it's a Jewish State. When the Pals and the Arab world stop blaming all their problems on Israel and realize it isn't going away, then there will be peace.

February 05 2013 at 2:45 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to discocapper's comment
Scott Conner

Israel has Jew only roads, checkpoints and policies that favor Jews over Muslims and Christians. Jews who marry Palestinians are not recognized by Israel. Your comment is as asinine and wrong as if you'd substitute the Jim Crow South for Israel. Lebanon is the country that has the tolerance you describe. Israel is a "Jewish State." The problem is, Israel cannot long remain democratic and Jewish.

February 06 2013 at 8:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Scott Conner's comment

Myth! And maybe Israel wouldn't have "Jew only" roads if Arabs weren't trying to kill them because they're Jews. Lebanon is ruled by a gang of islamic thugs called Hizb'Allah, headquartered in Iran.

February 07 2013 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down