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CBS to SodaStream: You Can’t Advertise Against Incumbents During the Super Bowl

· February 1, 2013

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Oh, the benefits of incumbency.

Sodastream is a cool new company that allows consumers to make their own carbonated beverages at home.  Given its popularity, largely due to its ease of use, SodaStream’s stock has been on a run the last few months.  It also possesses the potential to disrupt established beverage companies like Pepsi and Coke.

Not surprisingly, SodaStream would like to advertise this fact.  In fact, it is so keen on advertising the relative benefits of its product over the more traditional route of buying pre-made soda from the store that the company ponied up for a Super Bowl commercial.  Unfortunately for SodaStream, the ad was rejected by CBS, not because it was too risque, but because it “disparages” other major advertisers (which is apparently more objectionable than borderline softcore porn a la GoDaddy and Mercedes).  As Ad Age reported:

The content of its planned commercial seemed to have concerned CBS because it was a direct hit at two other Super Bowl sponsors and heavy network TV advertisers: Coke and Pepsi.

We’ve discussed elsewhere CBS’s newfound affinity for the ban hammer, but this isn’t even the first time this has happened to SodaStream.  British regulatory authorities yanked Sodastream’s first major advertising campaign for “being too disparaging towards soda manufacturers like Coke and Pepsi.”

How disparaging was SodaStream that its ads were pulled from television?  Well, it simply pointed out that SodaStream was more environmentally friendly than drinking off-the-shelf sodas because, with SodaStream, “you could save more than 2,000 bottles a year.”  Wow, that is incendiary.  Not safe for public consumption!

It gets better.  Clearcast, the NGO — funded by the British broadcasters — that pre-approves most advertisements for British television, reportedly offered this rationale for pulling the ad:

The majority decided that the ad could be seen to tell people not to go to supermarkets and buy soft drinks, [and] instead help to save the environment by buying a SodaStream. [SodaStream] was also told that it constituted denigration of the bottled-drinks market.

Hypocritically, U.S. broadcasters have allowed Pepsi to air Super Bowl ads that bashed Coke directly, as Ad Age also pointed out:

Interestingly enough, Pepsi has scored big points with viewers over the years by showing Super Bowl ads with Coke deliverymen abandoning their employer wholesale for a sip of a Pepsi drink.

Moral of this story:  Pepsi and Coke can attack each other over trivial differences in their products, but don’t attack the business model of big incumbent advertisers.

Fortunately, there is an upside for SodaStream.  All the controversy that these ads have stirred has generated a buzz around them.  The SodaStream “banned Super Bowl ad” has already generated more than two million hits on YouTube in two days and generated a media buzz around the company itself.  And that’s without having to splash $3.8 million worth of cash for a Super Bowl commercial.  Another example of the Streisand Effect in action.

[SodaStream is running a commercial during the Super Bowl, but it was forced to replace Coke and Pepsi with fictional soda companies.  However, that ad only has a little more than 17,000 YouTube views in the last two days.]

Competition

Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.