Why did CBS refuse to air a commercial for Yves Béhar’s SodaStream Source during the Super Bowl?
The new SodaStream – a countertop appliance that allows you to carbonate water and flavour it yourself – had a big debut last May during the design mecca that is the Salone del Mobile.
On a purely aesthetic level, it’s a great compact design, with an integrated bottle that locks into place with a single push, and LEDs that signal different carbonation levels. Designed by Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject, it is available in a range of punchy colours – and is not exactly the kind of product that one would expect to incite a wave of controversy.
Yet, the press release accompanying its debut predicted, “The plastic bottle is dead…or soon will be.” And that might be the reason for the broadcaster backlash, according to Future Partners, part of the team behind the product’s ads, which were produced by Pale Dot Voyage. The first one was banned late last year in the U.K. for “denigrating” Coke and Pepsi. And now, CBS has banned an ad from the same “Set the Bubbles Free” campaign that was supposed to air during the Super Bowl.
This kind of subversive creativity is par for the course for the talents behind Future Partners. The agency is the brainchild of John Bielenberg, who is also behind Project M and Common, two studios with a design-for-good philosophy. Their most notable projects are PieLab, a gathering hub in Greensboro, Alabama, made with recycled materials (in the spirit of Rural Studio’s Samuel Mockbee, who inspired the “M” in Project M); and Common Cycles, a project that aimed to create a market for bikes made from bamboo grown in Alabama, which would benefit the state economically.
Based in Half Moon Bay, California, Future Partners helps to brainstorm campaigns through a rapid-fire process they call the Blitz Cycle, and for SodaStream, this process involved Pale Dot Voyage, Common (including co-founder and ad guru Alex Bogusky) as well as the SodaStream leadership in a three-day creative spree. The result: an ad without a television audience. Yet, though it might not be aired during the Super Bowl, the ad is on YouTube, where it’s had 2.25-million hits and counting (no doubt due to the Barbra Streisand effect).
And Future Partners is taking advantage of the ban to support the ad’s subversive eco message. In an email to the press, Kelsey Forest, who leads the agency’s media and public affairs, explains, “SodaStream made the courageous choice to challenge, not other soda and beverage brands, but the single-use bottled soda market itself.
“Even though that doesn’t target any brand in particular, it’s a much scarier threat to conventional soda-makers, especially since they do it without asking consumers to sacrifice a thing. [In the past] Pepsi may have bashed Coke, but it didn’t declare store-bought, plastic-bottled soda obsolete, unnecessary, and wasteful. SodaStream does, and they get the ban. Two of them, in fact.”
She might be right – especially if Béhar is correct in saying the SodaStream would keep 2,000 bottles from landfill every year.
An earlier version of this article did not mention Pale Dot Voyage, the studio which produced the ads.