That’s a bunch of bull

EnemyThese aren't the best of times for the PR departments of Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy and their fellow category cohorts. Not after yesterday's scathing front-page investigative report from The New York Times reporting that the drinks are nothing more than exorbitantly priced caffeine and sugar delivery mechanisms that caused 'deaths and serious injuries.'

Talk about a buzz kill.

The Times, which says the Food and Drug Administration is taking a deep dive into the ingredients of Red Bull, et al, took the $10B per year energy drink category to task for citing outlandish and false 'mental and physical' benefits from their products.

Red Bull, for example, claims its contents 'gives you wings' and Monster Energy calls itself a 'killer energy brew.' Unfortunately, the latter brand promise may be 100 percent correct.

The real problem with energy drinks is their target audience: unsuspecting teenagers who believe these claims that caffeine and sugar loaded brews will enhance their mental and physical abilities (a promise that is based upon each drink's 'extra additives').

Indeed, Red Bull advertises such special ingredients as:

- 215mg of caffeine: which would keep this blogger wide awake right through Memorial Day Weekend.
- Taurine: An amino acid that researchers say the body already produces naturally.
- Glucoronolactone: A sugar-like substance that, once again, researchers say the body already produces in sufficient quantities.
- A whopping 833 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin B12. Guess what? The body already produces enough B12 and these ridiculously high extra doses “do nothing” says The Times.

To put a final nail in the energy drink coffin, the Times says a $2.99 16-ounce can of Red Bull contains the SAME amount of caffeine as a $.30 tablet of NoDoz. That should give cost-conscious consumers a jolt.

So, what's a poor Red Bull PR person to do? I see one of two possible courses of action:

- Find a medical researcher who's facing a personal fiscal cliff and is willing to say anything positive about any product for the right price. Then, book said researcher on any TV and radio talk show that will have him and continue to hoodwink the public. Hey, it worked for Enron for quite some time.

- Take a page out of Big Tobacco's play book and obfuscate at each and every turn. First, Big Tobacco claimed there was no scientific evidence linking cigarettes to heart disease, cancer, etc. Then, after being proven wrong and forced to post warning labels, they proceeded to blame the victims for not paying heed. And, when that too failed, they moved their marketing muscle to Third World countries where millions of uneducated consumers eagerly awaited the arrival of the legendary Marlboro Man.

Methinks the NYT article and pending FDA report are an ominous cloud on the horizon. But, hey, millions of Americans still smoke cigarettes despite indisputable evidence proving it will kill them. So, maybe Red Bull will live to fight another day after meeting a government agency matador in the courts (and the court of public opinion).

Why? Because when has making the right choice ever stopped Americans from doing the wrong thing?

5 thoughts on “That’s a bunch of bull

  1. “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” – George Carlin

  2. Interesting post, Steve (and BTW, great article in recent PR Tactics). As a somewhat frequent (twice a month) user of the 5-hour Energy drink, I’ve no complaints, crashes or hangovers, per se, and I do feel better after downing one before going for a long run, etc. But here’s my bigger picture point: It’s not about energy drinks, caffeine, sugar, chemicals, etc. It’s about time management. An entire industry has been founded and profited from Americans’ fundamental lack of wise time management due in part, IMHO, to technology and the perceived need to be all things to all people. If our priorities were better aligned, our time better managed and our lives better balanced, we wouldn’t be discussing this issue.