SodaStream is continuing its battle to get its "sustainability" TV ads on air. In November 2012, SodaStream was forced by Clearcast, the body that advises on and pre-clears UK TV ads, to pull this TV ad, which formed part of its £11m ‘SodaStream Effect’ global campaign, just hours before it was due to air. The ad contains a message about waste and sustainability and features soft drink bottles bursting and disappearing as people use their SodaStream device. The closing line states: "With SodaStream you can save 1,000 bottles per year". Clearcast argued that "the visual treatment denigrated other soft drinks which put it in breach of the BCAP Code (Rule 3.42)" adding that "environmental issues were not relevant to that decision". Rule 3.42 states that TV ads must not discredit or denigrate a product, marketer, trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing mark. SodaStream labelled the decision as "absurd". There is some sympathy for this argument in that it was a class of products, rather than any specific competitor’s brand that was being targeted. The UK is the only country to have banned this particular advert and it has been shown in the Canada, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. . In the UK, unlike TV ads, print ads do not need to be pre-cleared. We watch this space for Sodastream’s next steps.
In the UK, genuine comparative advertising is permitted by legislation, provided that the comparison is "like-for-like" and there is no disparaging of a competitor’s products. For TV advertising, under BCAP Rule 3.3.5, comparisons must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products and should not stray into subjectivity. This was not a comparative ad per se since no genuine comparison was made, but the ad was found to be in breach of In a response, and as a protest, to the initial decision, SodaStream launched new TV advert featuring only a black screen, a minimal soundtrack of bottles being opened and the words in white text: "If you love the bubbles set them free". The last frame then directs viewers to YouTube where the banned ad can still be seen. This ad has been dubbed "The Bubble Blackout". SodaStream appealed Clearcast’s decision in early December, but it was upheld and therefore the ad remains unapproved for broadcast in the UK its current form.
Whilst its dispute with Clearcast was underway, Sodastream took out a full-page ad in several national UK newspapers with the headline "Censored" and including the claim that "With SodaStream you can save 1,000 bottles a year." The print ad also notes that the TV ad was banned by Clearcast and that "for some this truth is uncomfortable"
Meanwhile, across the pond, as my US colleagues, Keri Bruce and Marilyn Colaninno report, the dispute is bubbling up again. SodaStream has purchased airtime during the Superbowl on February 3, 2013 (arguably the most-watched sporting event on the planet) when, according to SodaStream, "people are most likely to notice the growing piles of bottles and cans strewn about the room and filling up their trash". Its initial ad was submitted for approval to air on CBS, but was rejected by the network. The rejected ad depicted Coke and Pepsi delivery truck drivers attempting to deliver their soda bottles before they explode. CBS seems to have taken issue with the fact that the spot targeted Coke and Pepsi directly. While we aren’t privy to the communications between CBS and SodaStream, it is possible the network may have felt that the spot was unfairly trading on the goodwill or reputation of Coke and Pepsi, when the benefits of making soda at home impact many carbonated beverage companies, not just Coke and Pepsi. Regardless of the reasoning, in the US, the major broadcast networks have standards and best practice departments which review all advertising submitted for broadcast in an effort to ensure that it is truthful, lawful and tasteful. The major networks have guidelines that touch on issues relating to comparative advertisements and denigration. While commercials making comparative claims are generally acceptable, false or misleading disparagement of competitive products or services is unacceptable. Specifically, per CBS guidelines, comparative advertising is acceptable if the claims, comparative and otherwise, are truthful, fair and adequately substantiated. Click here to view the banned spot on a SodaStream ‘protest site’ and see whether you agree with CBS. Another SodaStream ad will be aired in place of the rejected ad. SodaStream will be disappointed by this, but should remember that sometimes the publicity generated from having a rejected Super Bowl TV ad can be just as effective as the buzz surrounding ads which do end up being screened during the game.