Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream: Much Ado About the Wrong Things
Photo Credit: screenshot, YouTube
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
"Israeli beverage company SodaStream has hired the sexiest woman alive to be its first-ever 'global brand ambassador,' the company said in a statement issued Saturday."
— Haaretz story's first line announcing the company’s signing of Scarlett Johansson (January 12, 2014)
"Like most actors, my real job is saving the world."
— Scarlett Johannson's first line in her Super Bowl ad for SodaStream (aired February 2, 2014)
"Sultry Scarlett Johansson is adding another image to her resume, as the new face of apartheid."
— Mondoweiss story's first line responding to Haaretz announcement (January 12, 2014)
"Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years. She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement."
— Scarlett Johansson's first lines in her Oxfam resignation statement (January 29, 2014)
"Oxfam has accepted Scarlett Johansson's decision to step down after eight years as a Global Ambassador and we are grateful for her many contributions."
— Oxfam's first line in its statement accepting Johansson's resignation over their SodaStream dispute (January 30, 2014)
* * *
The behind-the-scenes video of the SodaStream commercial for the Super Bowl shows no hint of the controversy it was about to kick up involving Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank. Underscored throughout with bouncy music, the video (2:30) was published on YouTube January 11, 2014, and is filled with sweetness and light right to the end. It begins with actress Scarlett Johansson saying, "I never thought I'd be doing a Super Bowl commercial…. It's fun, and something I don't normally get to do, so it's a whole new world."
"We are partnering for the first time ever with a global spokesperson, Scarlett Johansson," says the bubbly SodaStream CEO, David Birnbaum, in that behind-the-scenes promo for the slogan "better bubbles made by you." The 50-year-old New Yorker adds, "We are announcing the empowerment of consumers around the world – now you can make the soda that you love…."
Since starting in London in 1903, SodaStream has become a global corporation, with operations in 43 countries and its headquarters in Israel, near Tel Aviv. Fortissimo Capital, an Israeli private equity firm, acquired controlling interest in SodaStream in 2007 and took it public in 2010 (since then trading mostly in the $35-40 per share range with peaks over $75 in 2011 and 2013). In December 2013, The Motley Fool gave the company this assessment as an investment: "Despite the renewed pessimism of some analysts, SodaStream's long-term prospects remain very promising, and should aptly reward patient investors." The company has not yet paid any cash dividend on common stock.
Did no one see the mishagas coming?
Even though SodaStream was well aware of its sticky location in the West Bank, and even though it had been targeted by boycott activists before, the way it announced its contract with 29-year-old New Yorker Johansson made it seem as if no one expected any trouble. Even New York Times coverage of the deal foreshadowed no controversy, quoting Birnbaum without apparent irony as "looking for a way to take SodaStream to the next level." Probably not the level of trouble that started almost immediately with Mondoweiss writer Annie Robbins (a boycott supporter) calling the actress "the new face of apartheid" (an idea echoed in a graphic titled "Scarlett Letter A for Apartheid" that ran in the New York Post and was circulated by the Electronic Intifada).
That early piece in Mondoweiss set the tone and provided the basic elements of the pro-Palestinian critique of SodaStream and Johansson (a theme maintained in 8 follow-up pieces before the February 2 Super Bowl):