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Red Bull's wings clipped on health and concentration claim

Published on 08 April 2019

How did a claim that Red Bull can boost health and concentration fare with the ASA? Does the increased trend towards tighter regulation based on health grounds signal a rough ride ahead for energy drinks companies?

The background

In January this year, following a solitary complaint, a London Underground poster campaign of Red Bull’s was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).  In the poster, which allegedly promoted Red Bull’s “National 4pm Finish Day”, the slogan which prompted concern was as follows: “Because to leap every hurdle a hectic day brings, you just need to know: Red Bull gives you wiiings”.  The ASA decided that the ad “implied that Red Bull could help improve consumers’ mental focus, concentration and energy levels, and therefore increase productivity”.  Consequently, the poster campaign was banned and Red Bull was told not to imply that its product can boost health and concentration.

The development

The banning of Red Bull’s poster campaign follows a trend of increased ad regulation based on health concerns.  The most notable of which so far this year has been the ban on junk food advertising across London’s public transport network in February, as spearheaded by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

There are other indications which point towards a crackdown on products such as energy drinks based on health concerns.  For example, the sugar tax was introduced in 2018 and the government has also proposed a ban on sales of high-caffeine and high-sugar drinks.  In addition to this, many UK supermarkets have banned sales of energy drinks to under-16s.  These developments raise the serious question of whether a ban on advertising energy drinks could be on the cards.

Why is this important?

It goes without saying that advertising has a real impact on sales.  The energy drinks market is already contracting, with global consumption in 2017 increasing by only 5%, a decrease from previous years.  Looking forward, from GlobalData’s Soft Market Insights 2018 UK report, it is anticipated that the energy drinks category will suffer a gradual decline in value terms until 2023.  With this in mind, curtailing sales or ads for of energy drinks could be a further blow to the bottom line of energy drinks brands.

Any practical tips? 

As with any sensitive market, extreme care must be taken with the advertising of any regulated products (from HFSS to gambling to alcohol).  The heat attracted by ad complaints can only serve to fuel wider demand for even greater regulation.  So all claims, even relatively innocuous claims like Red Bull’s “gives you wiiings” in the context of overcoming a “hectic day”, need to be screened extremely carefully.