Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson And The Streisand Effect


People are always interested in what you’re trying to hide.

If you work in marketing, advertising or PR, I think it’s important that you know about the Streisand Effect. (Actually, I think it’s important even if you’re just a casual Internet user because you never know when you might inadvertently be at the heart of a burgeoning scandal.)

The Streisand effect is what happens when trying to hide, censor, or ban something online results in it becoming more publicized than it would’ve been otherwise. It’s named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand. In 2003, her lawyers attempted to suppress photographs of her Malibu residence.

It was precisely their lawyerly efforts that gave it tremendous publicity.

This image was only viewed 4 times before the lawyers got involved. It went on to become Wikipedia’s Picture Of The Day on January 18th, 2014.

The Streisand Effect can be subverted for marketing purposes.

By orchestrating a scenario where news sites say “Scarlett Johansson commercial BANNED!”, SodaStream gets people curious.

We know that Scarlett is a sex symbol, so we want to see if the video was too sexy, too risque. We all want to see what was forbidden.

This reveals the Streisand Effect to be a predictable phenomenon. And predictable phenomena can be subverted, which is precisely what SodaStream is doing here. They’re artfully manipulating the public’s interest in both Scarlett Johansson and in big brands such as Coke and Pepsi.

It’s all about skillful gaming of public sentiment.

“Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, bitterly complained to USA TODAY late Friday that Fox rejected the Super Bowl commercial “because they’re afraid of Coke and Pepsi.” “What are they afraid of?” asks Birnbaum. “Which advertiser in America doesn’t mention a competitor? This is the kind of stuff that happens in China. I’m disappointed as an American.

Once you make sense of the broader context (SodaStream is actually based in Israel, not the USA), it’s hard not to see the similarities between SodaStream’s ad and a showbiz feud meant to sell tickets. SodaStream gets free legitimacy. News sites get lots of free hits.

Together, they tap into a fundamental, primal need that news consumers have.

In essence, SodaStream is getting brand equity for manufacturing controversy.

Drawing responses creates instant legitimacy from industry leaders.

A Coca-Cola spokesperson said, “I can confirm we did not pressure Fox. Other than that, we don’t comment on our competitors’ efforts.”  [source]

Imagine that. While the Coke spokesperson says that Coke doesn’t comment on competitors’ efforts, the fact that they felt obliged to say anything at all legitimizes SodaStream as a competitor.

Which is a great way for SodaStream to get a boatload of publicity. Coke is publicly acknowledging them as a competitor. For free!

Heads SodaStream wins, tails Pepsi loses.

SodaStream knew that Pepsi is sponsoring this year’s Superbowl Halftime show. They would’ve known that making an ad that directly criticized Pepsi would’ve stirred up controversy.

If the ad did pass, they’d have gotten a lot of press for it.  (“You Won’t BELIEVE That This Sexy, Anti-Pepsi Ad Was Aired On Pepsi’s Halftime Show!”)

If this all seems too elaborate, consider this: SodaStream did almost exactly the same thing last year. They made an ad showing Pepsi and Coke bottles literally blowing up. It didn’t quite take off the way this year’s ad did, maybe because they were lacking the pulling power of a contemporary sex symbol, i.e. Scarlett Johansson.

“The underdog wins through asymmetrical warfare.”

Neha Prakash from Mashable called SodaStream’s effort a “cheap shot”.

She’s not wrong, but is there any better way for a weaker, smaller brand to compete?

CEO Daniel Birnbaum’s “bitter complaint” was carefully designed. Just drop by the SodaStream website or Facebook Page:

Obviously intentional.

This is the skilful management of consumers’ expectations. They knew that the ad would be censored, and they knew that news agencies would happily publish any mention of “banned commercial” and -insert-sex-symbol-here.

It allowed SodaStream to get Superbowl-level exposure without the Superbowl-level fees.

Well played, SodaStream.

Ultimately, news agencies are businesses themselves, and they have objectives and KPIs to meet. They need to put out material that sells, not necessarily whatever is most important. (We touched on this briefly when addressing Guinness’s latest ad.)

Some may find this depressing. Others may choose to look at it as an opportunity. Make of it what you will, and be sure to let us know what you think about it.


Read next: How 10 Companies Generated Massive Word-Of-Mouth Through Newsjacking


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.