Scarlett Johansson, Oxfam, and SodaStream

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We have a DVR – which we often, mistakenly, call a Tivo – and we watch almost nothing live, guiltingly skipping past the commercials, so it was especially interesting to see the Super Bowl Commercials at Peter and Ophelia’s. I think I saw more commercials in three plus hours than I have seen all year, and I loved it. All the little stories done with such care. As an aside. I know that Ridley Scott and Spike Jonze got their starts doing commercials and I think Ingmar Bergman did also. End aside.

My favorite commercial was the Maserati ad with Quvenzhané Wallis. There were just so many things that I liked about it, the rift  on Beasts of the Southern Wild, the parody of – homagé to? – the GlobalHue agency’s, Imported from Detroit, Chrysler ads, and then the shock that it was a Maserati ad. The New Yorker had it as one of the worst ads while Forbes said it was the best (proof of one of my mother’s sayings, de gustibus non est disputandum). One of the commercials that I didn’t particularly like was the SodaStream ad with Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson has a quirky acting style, often she seems to be not quite there, sort of daffily stoned but very appealing; it worked perfectly in her. Among other things, I didn’t like Scarlett telling us how hot she is and that the ad would go viral because she was sucking on a straw (not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable in a prurient way). I didn’t believe that and didn’t really believe that the resulting soda would be any good, but, then, I don’t drink soda.

Later, as I started to read about the controversy over the ad, I began to think that the ad may have actually hurt SodaStream. The SodaStream machinery is made in a factory in the West bank, built on land reclaimed by Israel after it was confiscated from Palestinians, but I didn’t know that. I only know it now because of the controversy over the ad and  Johansson. Johansson had been a Global Ambassador for Oxfam and Oxfam is very strongly against Israel’s West Bank policies. They asked her to leave Oxfam or SodaStream and she left Oxfam.

I have no insight as to why Scarlett Johansson left Oxfam, why she decided the way she did, but the dilemma itself is interesting . As an aside, she does have a Jewish mother and self identifies as being Jewish, she was probably not paid by Oxfam and paid handsomely by SodaStream, and Oxfam is the one who pressed the issue – my theory is that if someone says It’s either me or them, I’ll always go with them – so it might have been some combination of those three. End aside. Acting as  a Global Ambassador for Oxfam works both ways; Oxfam gets more publicity when Scarlett Johansson visits Dadaab, Kenya – the largest refugee camp in the world – than they would if an unknown, non-celebrity, visited and Scarlett Johansson is shown as somebody who cares.

Much of  Bono’s reputation is based on his work with organizations like Amnesty International and it is hard to believe that he would give that up to maintain his commercial relationship with Vuitton – for whom he and his wife have done ads – but Johansson gave up that part of her reputation. It was a very public decision and, in my imagination at least, she did not make it lightly. In the end, I find that a little sad.

 

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