Why SodaStream Can Be Tough on Pollution

A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 4 2013 4:57 PM

Why Private Companies Can Be More Politically Aggressive Than Advocates

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A Sodastream advertisement

Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for SodaStream

I like SodaStream because I like to drink straight-up carbonated water, and it's the most convenient way to do it. But in their Super Bowl ad Sunday night, SodaStream took direct aim at players like Coke and Pepsi, arguing for the use of the machine plus flavor packets as a full-service beverage alternative. And the case they made was largely ecological—think of all the plastic waste that can be avoided this way!

David Roberts notes the contrast with the messages pushed by mainstream environmental groups that are much more cautious about launching aggressive anti-consumption, anti-waste campaigns. But I think he misses the real reason why. The great thing about business is that to build a great business, you don't need to appeal to a majority of customers. If 30 percent of Americans owned a SodaStream, that would be a huge success for SodaStream. Of course they'd rather have 57 percent, but 30 percent would be really good. You can make a lot of money with 30 percent. Politics isn't like that. Even with 57 percent support, there's no guarantee that the Sierra Club would get its agenda passed, but it definitely won't get it with 30 percent. So mainstream advocacy groups needs to shave the sharpest edges off their message. That's intensely frustrating in many ways to the core audience for environmental messages, which is why it makes sense for SodaStream—which is just trying to get a toehold in the United States—to market directly to that frustrated minority.

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As a sidebar, SodaStream often comes under criticism for having manufacturing facilities located in West Bank settlements, so directly affiliating itself with left-wing political causes may bring added benefits by making it less likely to be targeted by progressives. The Israeli government is often accused of "greenwashing" its reputation by Palestinian activists, and SodaStream can be viewed in that light as well.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.