Daniel Birnbaum is on a mission to save the world from plastic.
Fortunately, as chief executive of SodaStream, he is in a position to take action that has real impact. One significant step the company is taking is the release today (13 November) of 'It’s time for a change,’ a new campaign asking people to stop using single-use plastic bottles, as well as bags, cups, plates, straws—items consumers either don’t need or can easily replace with a more planet-friendly option.
The genesis of this campaign was a 2017 video by photographer Caroline Power, who filmed a floating 'island' of trash near Roatan, off the coast of Honduras.
After watching Powers’ video, Birnbaum tells The Drum, he was inspired to “walk the walk.” The company spent a year developing what he called the Holy Turtle device, based on oil containment products, to collect the floating trash.
He and 150 of SodaStream’s global employees went to Roatan and spent four days collecting trash; first in the mangroves, then along the shoreline with 150 local children—at a cost of about $1m.
“It was a life-changing experience,” Birnbaum says. “It took about five minutes for me to realize that it also was a near-futile effort. We collected about nine tons of trash in four days, but it only takes 30-seconds for that same about to wind up right back in the ocean.
“It was depressing, but also inspirational. You walk away from an experience like that and you know you have to do something. Collecting isn’t enough. Wherever there’s an alternative, I’m going to try to convince people to stop using plastic.”
The 'It’s time for a change' film is central to that goal. The video juxtaposes greedy corporate bottled water company executives laughing about their profits with a choir of young people and marine animals injured by plastics singing Ocean of Change, a song written for SodaStream’s campaign that essentially says, as consumers, change is in our hands. Leading the chorus is up-and-comer Sarah Catherine Hook and a Rod Stewart-esque sea turtle — the singer lends his voice to the turtle — held aloft by celebrity Thor 'The Mountain' Bjornsson.
The ad closes with Hook’s voiceover of the call to action emblazoned on the screen: 'Help save the world from plastic bottles.'
Birnbaum adds: “We try to be light-hearted and entertaining and have some fun to stand out in digital space. We don’t want to preach. And in this video, we wanted to give the animals a voice.”
The video campaign follows others with a similar blend of humor and gravity. For example, in the 'Shame or Glory' campaign, a man who buys two packages of bottled sparkling water is followed by a Game of Thrones type character chanting “shame” at him and ringing a bell as he walks through a store, a busy street, and a movie set, only to be told by actor Bjornsson that he’s stupid for buying shameful products that harm the earth.
Birnbaum says SodaStream is aiming for disruption with its videos — and it is working. The British Advertising Association (BAA) tried to ban the Shame or Glory video from TV, but it was not on TV, Birnbaum notes, adding that all the media attention from the attempted ban served to give the already popular SodaStream video a few million more views.
“We aim to disrupt in a fun way, and it’s working,” he said. Competitors and others such as the BAA challenge the company in court, but SodaStream always wins. “They try to scare us, but it doesn’t work.”
The videos, however, do work…. “We’ve been growing 30% every quarter for the past few quarters,” Birnbaum says.
As much as he’s glad for the sales, Birnbaum is “counting eyeballs more than dollars and cents” with this video. His and the company’s primary goal with the campaign is to encourage consumers to stop using unnecessary plastic bottles.
“It’s a mission more than ever for me,” he said, noting that manufacturers produce 1.5 billion plastic bottles per day. “I decided to focus on it. We want to save the world from plastic.”
After working on this campaign for over a year, Birnbaum is excited and curious to see the engagement level among consumers and, most important, a behavior change. “We don’t want to just entertain; we want people to change. We want to move the needle, even if it’s just a little bit.”