Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, two were Upheld, one of which was Upheld in part, and two were Not upheld.
Ads for SodaStream seen in November 2016:
a. A video, seen as a shared post in the complainant’s Facebook feed and as a pre-roll ad before a Pokemon Undertale video on YouTube, featured a man buying bottled sparkling water in a supermarket. A woman dressed in medieval costume followed him ringing a bell and saying “Shame”. The man then encountered other characters who shouted “Shame” and acted in a threatening manner, before walking onto a film set filled with people dressed in old-fashioned costumes who pelted vegetables at him. He spoke to an actor who said, “Why are you stupid? Why are you carrying shameful polluting plastic bottles? Don’t you know you’re hurting Mother Earth? Mother Earth has given us so much. The birds, the bees, the ocean, Matthew McConaughey, peanuts. Why would you destroy all these beautiful creations?” The man said, “I don’t know” and started crying. The actor said, “Stop. With SodaStream you can make sparkling water at home at the touch of a button … Without carrying heavy plastic bottles and pissing off Mother Earth. Can you hear the dolphins cry? SodaStream. Fuck plastic bottles.”
b. A web page entitled “Why SodaStream?”, seen on www.sodastream.co.uk, stated “Sparkling water is the result of pressurised carbon dioxide being dissolved into water. Carbonation is the name of process which the process [sic], that causes water to become sparkling. Whilst sparkling water can be bought in drink bottles, this causes excess waste of plastic, transport and cost. With the use of SodaStream the same great sparkling water taste can be created at home straight from the tap. No lugging water bottles from the shops, no high cost every time you want sparkling water and no throwaway plastic bottles” and “One SodaStream BPA free PET carbonating bottle saves the average household 2,190 bottles from being landfilled or ending up in our parks and beaches, over its 3 year lifespan”.
The ASA received three complaints:
1. The Natural Hydration Council and two members of the public challenged whether ad (a) was offensive, distressing and irresponsibly targeted.
2. The Natural Hydration Council challenged whether the claim “One SodaStream BPA free PET carbonating bottle saves the average household 2,190 bottles from being landfilled or ending up in our parks and beaches, over its 3 year lifespan” in ad (b) was misleading and could be substantiated.
3. The Natural Hydration Council and one member of the public challenged whether ads (a) and (b) exaggerated the environmental benefits of SodaStream’s product.
4. The Natural Hydration Council challenged whether ads (a) and (b) misleadingly implied that the sparkling water produced by SodaStream was equivalent to bottled natural sparkling water.
1. SodaStream Worldwide Trading Company (SodaStream) said ad (a) was a parody of a scene from the Game of Thrones TV series in which a key character was forced to walk naked through the streets as punishment for adultery. The ad mimicked the tone, scenery and themes of the original scene and featured two characters from the TV series, played by the same actors. It was aimed at fans of Game of Thrones, a show that was rated 18 by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) because of its adult content, violence and language. SodaStream said that the level of swearing in the ad was typical of the language used in the TV series, although the images and language used were significantly milder than those in the original scene. They said that the second part of the ad, which viewers would understand as taking place on the set of Game of Thrones, was more light-hearted. It featured the actor who played “The Mountain”, a serious and imposing character, making a humorous speech about the earth’s resources. He then said “Fuck plastic bottles”, because he thought that they harmed the environment. Within the overall context of the ad, including the target audience, SodaStream did not believe that the single use of the word “fuck” was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Neither did they believe that the ad was likely to cause fear or distress. They said that its tone was light-hearted and the surreal juxtaposition of the medieval character with the supermarket made clear that the scenario was fictitious. While the ad included a mild element of tension, this was inevitable given the nature of the scene it was parodying.
SodaStream stated that the ad was no longer running as a pre-roll ad on YouTube and they had no plans to use it again in the UK in the same form. They stated it was not their intention to cause offence and they had taken steps to ensure that the ad was targeted appropriately. On YouTube, the ad was only served to users who were registered as over 25 years of age on a YouTube or Google account. Unknown users (those who were not logged into an account) were excluded. Within that group, it was targeted at individuals with an interest in Game of Thrones, body-building (as it featured a professional strongman) or SodaStream. These were the “preferred” target groups, but they were not limitations on the targeting of the ad.
SodaStream said a child would not have been able to view the ad on YouTube unless they were using an account for which the user was registered as over 25. Furthermore, the ad was several minutes long and the potentially offensive language featured towards the end. They said that viewers were always given the option to skip the pre-roll ad, and it was common for YouTube users to do this. They believed that the ad would have little appeal to children and it was unlikely that a child would have watched it to the end.
SodaStream said that the ad had not been actively promoted on Facebook. While they had not paid for it to be served as a sponsored post, it would have appeared in the timelines of users who had shown an interest in SodaStream or whose friends had “liked” or interacted with the video and were deemed to have similar interests. The target market was individuals aged 25 and over.
YouTube said that the ad was in violation of their advertising policies and they had taken steps to ensure that the campaign did not run again on the platform in future.
Facebook said that the ad was in violation of their advertising policies and had been removed.
2.& 3. Sodastream said that the basis for the claim “One SodaStream BPA free PET carbonating bottle saves the average household 2,190 bottles from being landfilled or ending up in our parks and beaches, over its 3 year lifespan” was not currently clear. They had removed the reference to the exact number of bottles saved from their website.
They believed that consumers would understand both ads (a) and (b) to convey an overall general message that using SodaStream to produce sparkling water was less harmful to the environment than buying it in plastic bottles. They said that the negative environmental impact of bottled water was well-documented. They provided a study on the life cycle environmental impacts of carbonated soft drinks in the UK, along with articles stating that a significant number of PET bottles were not recycled and that over one-fifth of water sold in the UK was sourced overseas, leading to a greater carbon footprint. They also supplied certifications from the Carbon Trust stating that the carbon footprint of a SodaStream device was lower than the generic product carbon footprints of bottled sparkling water. They provided estimates of the number of bottles that could be saved by consumers using a SodaStream device once a day over its three-year lifespan. However, they said that regardless of the number of plastic bottles replaced by using the device (which would vary based on individual levels of consumption), it would still reduce their environmental impact. SodaStream said that the evidence they provided demonstrated that the SodaStream system had a significantly lower environmental impact than sparkling water in plastic bottles. They therefore believed that ads (a) and (b) did not exaggerate the environmental benefits of the product.
4. SodaStream said that there were different types of sparkling water, and naturally-sourced sparkling mineral water made up only a portion of the market. They believed that consumers would understand that ads (a) and (b) were comparing water produced using SodaStream with carbonated water generally, that is, water with bubbles in it. In ad (a), the character selected bottles with no branding from the bottom shelf. SodaStream believed that these were likely to be interpreted as cheaper, generic items rather than sparkling natural mineral water, which tended to be a higher-priced, more luxury product. They said that both ads made clear that the water used in SodaStream came from the tap. They also cited several studies that they said demonstrated that consumers did not perceive the taste of bottled water to be superior to that of tap water. They said that the ads did not suggest that sparkling water made with SodaStream was better or identical to naturally sourced sparkling mineral water and any implication that they were equivalent would be understood simply as being on the basis that they were both carbonated drinking water.
1. Upheld in part
The ASA noted that one of the complainants objected to what they perceived as the threatening and bullying tone of ad (a), and particularly the throat-slitting gesture made by a little girl at the beginning of the video. We noted that the people who encountered the central character in the ad demonstrated that they disapproved of his actions (buying bottled sparkling water) in different ways, ranging from hostile looks to throwing vegetables at him and shouting “Shame”. However, it did not feature any violence against the central character or depict him as being overly distressed. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the characters in medieval costume with the mundane modern setting emphasised the fantastical and humorous tone of the ad. For those reasons, we did not consider that the ad was likely to cause fear or distress.
We noted that the word “fuck” was likely to seriously offend many people and was inappropriate to be heard or seen by children. We considered whether the ad had been responsibly targeted on social media. On YouTube, we noted that the video had only been served to viewers who were logged into a YouTube account registered to a user of 25 years or over. It had been further targeted toward users with an interest in Game of Thrones, SodaStream or bodybuilding, but could also have been seen by others who did not have those specific interests. While we acknowledged that the language was in line with that used in Game of Thrones, the ad was not served exclusively to fans of the show. Furthermore, we considered that YouTube viewers would not expect to be served an ad that featured such strong language in this medium, regardless of their other interests. We concluded that the ad had been irresponsibly targeted on YouTube.
The ad did not appear as a sponsored ad on Facebook, but would have been viewable on the feeds of users whose friends had interacted with SodaStream’s own page. We noted that the ad was untargeted and that advertisers would have had little control over the way that this type of content was shared on Facebook. It therefore could have potentially been seen by any user. Given that the ad featured language that many would find seriously offensive and that was unsuitable to be heard by children, we concluded that SodaStream had not targeted the ad responsibly on Facebook.
On this point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Social responsibility) and
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and offence). We also investigated ad (a) under CAP Code rule 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
Ad (b) stated “One SodaStream BPA free PET carbonating bottle saves the average household 2,190 bottles from being landfilled or ending up in our parks and beaches, over its 3 year lifespan”. We considered that consumers were likely to understand the claim to mean that they could save 2,190 plastic bottles over a three-year period by using SodaStream. The website did not state where the figure had been taken from or explain what was meant by “the average household”. We acknowledged that SodaStream had removed the number from the website. However, because we had not seen any evidence to support the claim, we concluded that it had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading.
On this point, ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
3. Not upheld
In ad (a), the actor playing “The Mountain” said “Why are you carrying shameful polluting plastic bottles? Don’t you know you’re hurting Mother Earth? ... Why would you destroy all these beautiful creations?” and “With SodaStream you can make sparkling water at home at the touch of a button … Without carrying heavy plastic bottles and pissing off Mother Earth. Can you hear the dolphins cry?” Within the humorous context of the ad, we considered that viewers would understand this to mean that using a SodaStream to make sparkling water would have less of an environmental impact than purchasing it in plastic bottles.
We considered the evidence submitted by SodaStream. We noted that the study on the life cycle environmental impact demonstrated that different aspects of the production and distribution of bottled sparkling water contributed to pollution and global warming. We noted that the certification from the Carbon Trust compared the carbon footprint per 250 ml of sparkling water produced using a SodaStream Home Drinks Maker (taking into account the full life cycle of all its relevant components, including the reusable bottle and carbon dioxide cylinders), with the generic carbon footprint of the same amount of bottled sparkling water, based on the UK market. The carbon footprint of water produced with SodaStream was 87% lower than that of sparkling water sold in a 100% virgin PET bottle, and 84% lower than that of sparkling water sold in a 100% recycled PET bottle. We considered that this was sufficient to demonstrate that making sparkling water with the SodaStream Home Drinks Maker resulted in a lower environmental impact than buying the same amount in plastic bottles. We therefore concluded that ad (a) did not exaggerate the environmental benefits of the product and was not misleading.
Ad (b) stated “Whilst sparkling water can be bought in drink bottles, this causes excess waste of plastic [and] transport”, “no throwaway plastic bottles” and described the product as “eco-friendly”. We considered that these claims were likely be understood as having a similar meaning to those in ad (a), namely that using SodaStream to produce sparkling water was better for the environment than buying it in plastic bottles, as it would produce less waste and carbon dioxide. While we noted that the drinks maker included a plastic bottle, it was reusable with a lifespan of three years, so was unlikely to be understood as “throwaway”. We considered that the evidence provided by SodaStream, which covered the full life cycles of the products involved, was sufficient to support the more general claims about environmental benefits implied by the abovementioned claims. While we considered that the more specific claim “One SodaStream BPA free PET carbonating bottle saves the average household 2,190 bottles from being landfilled or ending up in our parks and beaches, over its 3 year lifespan” had not been substantiated (as discussed in point 2), overall ad (b) did not exaggerate the general environmental benefits of the product and was not misleading.
We investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration), 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), 11.3 11.3 Absolute claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation. Comparative claims such as "greener" or "friendlier" can be justified, for example, if the advertised product provides a total environmental benefit over that of the marketer's previous product or competitor products and the basis of the comparison is clear. and 11.4 11.4 Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. If a general claim cannot be justified, a more limited claim about specific aspects of a product might be justifiable. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product's life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product's total environmental impact. (Environmental claims), but did not find them in breach.
4. Not upheld
We acknowledged that there were different types of bottled sparkling water, and some of it was bottled at source (naturally sourced). We also noted the Natural Hydration Council’s belief that naturally sourced sparkling water had a superior taste to carbonated tap water due to its unique mineral composition. We noted that both ads referred to “sparkling water” in general terms and did not explicitly compare sparkling water produced using SodaStream to naturally sourced bottled sparkling water. We considered that consumers were likely to understand from the ads that sparkling water produced by SodaStream and bottled sparkling water in general were equivalent, in that they contained bubbles produced by carbonation. We concluded that the ads did not imply that sparkling water produced by SodaStream was equivalent to naturally sourced bottled sparkling water and were not misleading.
On this point we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), but did not find them in breach.
Ads (a) and (b) must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told SodaStream Worldwide Trading Company to ensure that their ads were targeted appropriately and to avoid using language that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. We also told them to ensure that they held sufficient evidence to support all objective claims made in their advertising.