Happy Earth Day! And welcome to the inevitable flood of marketing messages celebrating the planet and all the things major brands are doing to help save it. (Or at least, y’know, trying to appear that way.) But this one from PepsiCo-owned SodaStream is easily the top contender for Worst Earth Day Ad of 2021.
“Don’t Just Share, Care” starts out well enough, with an elaborate side-eye at the ineffectiveness of online slacktivism, as a Coast Guard helicopter reassures a stranded polar bear it’ll be alright because Sarah from New Jersey had shared its story. Then the brand cuts to Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and former marketing exec at his company, in a coffee shop. Her first joke comes when a patron at the coffee shop recognizes her as Mark Zuckerberg’s sister and she claps back that she is, “my own person, regardless of who may or may not be a member of my family.”
Okay, so here we have a critique of social sharing as a form of activism, headlined by a former Facebook exec, and sister to the guy who invented the very platform that popularized this exact behavior. That’s the joke.
Then she’s strolling through what’s supposed to be the carbonated water company’s lab-like headquarters wearing a lab coat in the same way nameless actors have been wearing lab coats for generations of mouthwash, detergent, and soap commercials.
It all ends with Zuckerberg ditching her ponytail and lab coat, then going full Bob Fosse. What is happening here?
Let’s take a step back for a sec. As part of its Earth Day campaign, SodaStream is making a handful of sustainability announcements. Things like taking nearly 78 billion plastic bottles out of circulation by 2025, which is 11 billion more than an initial goal announced last year. The brand will also be switching its flavor bottles from plastic to metal, starting at the end of this year.
Yet SodaStream’s parent company was named one of the planet’s top three plastic polluters in a 2020 report by advocacy organization Break Free From Plastic (BFFP). PepsiCo has made significant moves in making its bottles out of 100% recycled plastic, as well as experimenting with compostable plastics. Yet that 100% recycled figure is only for a handful of the many countries where PepsiCo operates, and according to NGO Tearfund, PepsiCo alone is responsible for 151,000 tons of plastic pollution per year. Tearfund’s research found that emissions produced from the open burning of plastic packaging in developing countries from companies like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Nestle is a major contribution to the climate emergency.
Ironies abound as the social network sibling pitches plastic responsibility for a brand owned by one of the world’s major polluters. It’s a particularly insulting form of brand wokeness, aiming to be critical of broader consumer behavior without actually addressing or grappling with the ecosystem in which it operates, nor the environmental sins of its parent.
Clearly that’s all pretty tough to address in a 30 to 90 seconds, but then don’t make the claims in the first place. To paraphrase Zuckerberg: I’m not saying funny ads about sustainability can’t get people’s attention, but honestly when all it does is make narrow claims instead of taking real action, the world doesn’t give a sh*t.