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SoBe Bottle Ad Campaign Throws Away All Environmental Conscientiousness

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You know how online ads are supposed to know exactly what you want to see and buy? Well online ads don’t know Stiv Wilson.

The communications director for the environmental nonprofit 5 Gyres was perusing Facebook last week when an ad for SoBe bottled drinks popped up on his feed.

Send a message in a bottle and win a Hawaiian vacation, the ad encouraged.

Wilson was horrified. “At first, I thought they were actually advocating for people to throw plastic bottles into the ocean,” Wilson wrote in a 5 Gyres blog, partially entitled “#TheyJustDon’tGetIt.

A look at SoBe’s website lays out the promotion in more detail. Visitors are encouraged to “explore the worlds of Sobe” and write a message inspired by the images. Share the message via social media and be entered to win prizes.

Well, the worlds one can explore are scenes of plastic SoBe bottles floating in the ocean...
sobe message in a bottle

...and waterfalls...

sobe bottles

...and stuck in the sand on tropical beaches.

sobe bottles sand

“How odd and insensitive a choice it is to use plastic pollution in the ocean portrayed in a positive, paradise like fashion,” Wilson writes.

It’s not surprising that he’s bothered by this image, considering 5 Gyres’ entire mission is to “conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the 5 subtropical gyres.”

The organization tours the five ocean gyres which, due to currents and the earth’s rotation, amass a huge portion of the plastic that ends up in the world’s waters. They conduct research on and take inventory of the waste they observe, and document the effects on marine life.

ocean plastic pollution

In case you hadn’t heard (which perhaps SoBe has not), ocean plastic pollution is an enormous problem. 5 Gyres estimates that the world only recycles about 5% of the plastic it uses. The rest ends up in landfills or is even less-properly discarded, eventually winding up in the ocean. As it (very) slowly biodegrades, it breaks into pieces small enough for marine life to ingest, leaching toxic compounds in the meantime.

“When marine animals consume plastic trash, presumably mistaking it for food, this can lead to internal blockages, dehydration, starvation, and potentially death. Also of deep concern for societies are the potential human health impacts of toxic chemicals entering the marine food chain through plastics,” 5 Gyres warns.

SoBe’s products used to be distributed in glass bottles, but the Pepsi-owned company now uses plastic. So the concept of an ad depicting plastic bottles in the ocean, and figuratively encouraging the practice of throwing a bottle into the ocean with a message inside, is rather baffling.

In the end, Wilson puts the responsibility on himself and other like-minded anti-plastic crusaders. “What saddens me is this -- if no one is catching that this ad campaign was a dumb idea, it means we as activists need to turn the volume up. Like a lot. Like a lot a lot a lot.”

PepsiCo, the parent company of Sobe, didn't respond to a request for comment made on Thursday. This story will be updated if more information becomes available.

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