So Scarlett Johansson has parted ways with Oxfam. The actress, who has served as an ambassador for the humanitarian group for eight years, quit yesterday over a “fundamental difference of opinion” (read: PR disaster waiting to happen). Johansson has recently signed as brand ambassador for the drinks-fizzinator (possibly not a real word) manufacturer Sodastream. It seems Oxfam’s support for marginalised Palestinians sits badly with Sodastream maintaining a factory in the occupied West Bank.
This is the PR meltdown that never happened; thanks to careful stewardship (and, one imagines, a lot of hair-pulling and arse-kissing behind the scenes), everyone has emerged positively reeking of roses. Painting the split as a “difference of opinion” was a genius move. It allowed Johansson to highlight her belief in “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights”, rather than any belief in receiving lots of cash for sponsorship deals. Similarly, it provided Oxfam with a platform to highlight its views on the perceived injustices happening in that part of the world. Sodastream, meanwhile, got pictures of Johansson sucking seductively on a drinking straw on virtually every news site known to man.
All PR pixies concerned are to be applauded, for ’tis not always thus. In 2012, skincare brand Nivea dropped Rihanna as its brand ambassador because new CEO Stefan Heidenreich decided that gyrating about in lingerie on a brand-sponsored tour didn’t quite square with the beauty company’s family image. Coming at a time when Ri-Ri was constantly making headlines for partying too hard, it didn’t look great for her, but it perhaps looked worse for the brand, who temporarily appeared stuffy and churlish. A 2011 survey by Ipsos Mori found that 23% of Americans and 19% of Britons said that Tiger Woods’s well-chronicled misdemeanours made them consider boycotting products he had endorsed.
Spare a thought, too, for the poor celebrities; it’s not only brands who can find their image damaged by dodgy dealing on the other side of the partnership. The Kardashian sisters found themselves lowered in the public estimation (if such a thing were possible) after they endorsed the ‘Kardashian Kard’, a prepaid card aimed at young adults. Backed by Mastercard, the Kard’s huge fees led Former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to declare: “Keeping up with the Kardashians is impossible using these cards.” The sisters terminated the deal in 2010.
Oxfam and Johannson’s well-judged parting of ways carries a lesson for brands operating in the Now Economy. In an age where fans can be mobilised in huge numbers and at frightening speeds, hypocrisy just won’t wash anymore, and both sides did well to separate amicably before pro-Palestine activists’ Twitter campaigning got too ugly. We at Borkowski wish Oxfam all the luck in the world when searching for a more suitable partner; we reckon Justin Bieber might have a few free spaces soon.