Johansson recently agreed to front SodaStream, the popular beverage maker. As part of the campaign, the 29-year-old actress will be featured in a commercial this weekend on Superbowl Sunday, one of the most widely viewed events in US television. The deal, however, is causing a furor. Oxfam, the UK-based international charity, has harshly criticized Johansson, saying SodaStream’s facilities in the hotly contested West Bank region of Jerusalem are an affront to the work Oxfam does on behalf of Palestinians.
It’s a particularly big “oops” for Johansson, who’s been an Oxfam ambassador since 2007. In a public war of words, Oxfam said businesses that operate in Israeli settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Johansson countered that SodaStream’s policy of providing equal pay and benefits to Israeli and Palestinian employees shows it wants peace between Israel and Palestine.
Johansson claims she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance.” However, there’s no disputing she’s there now.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Scarlett Johansson, whose “belief” that SodaStream is helping build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians strains credulity. SodaStream makes soda – not peace agreements.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Due diligence applies to celebrities too. In 2009, a similar scene played out between Oxfam and Sex and the City actress Kristin Davis, who endorsed a cosmetics company with a West Bank factory. She cut ties with the company after negative media pressure. With Oxfam’s position well known, it seems unlikely Johansson’s camp didn’t expect their reaction. She also could have spoken privately with Oxfam before inking the SodaStream deal. Instead, she’s choosing to battle a charity in the public eye. The result? The unfortunate impression that she’s willing to imperil years of good works for a lucrative spokesperson gig.