Claiming concentration? Red Bull cautioned by UK advertising watchdog for “misleading” health claim

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17 Jan 2019 --- UK advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has banned a poster for the energy drink Red Bull for reportedly implying that Red Bull has a beneficial impact on health, in particular, focus and concentration. Suggesting a product aids focus and concentration is a health claim, and therefore must comply with the claims authorized on the EU register. This is According to Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. Health claims are defined as those that state, suggest or imply a relationship between a food, or ingredient and health.

The market has seen an increase in NPD featuring cognitive boosting ingredients, such as nootropics and adaptogens, and suppliers may be keen to transmit this increasingly popular claim. According to Innova Market Insights, there has been an average annual growth of 12.9 percent in the number of new F&B and supplement launches tracked with cognitive health claims between 2012 and 2017, and according to industry experts, this number is only set to grow.

The British advert, launched in September 2018 on the London Underground, featured a cartoon of two women smiling and whistling in front of a can of Red Bull. The text next to the cartoon stated: “The secret to finishing early. Plans are afoot to finish at four, But first, you have meetings and deadlines galore. So remember the secret of every office superstar, And tame every task that’s thrown on your radar. Because to leap every hurdle a hectic day brings, You just need to know: RED BULL GIVES YOU WIIINGS.”

Beneath this, a cartoon depicted a clock at the 4pm mark pulling a flag that stated: “For a flying 4pm finish on 14th September visit” 

Red Bull responded to the complaint made by the  Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) by saying that the advert promoted a consumer initiative: the 4pm finish, which encouraged workers to leave one hour early on Friday 14 September. Such initiatives imply the brand's humor and ethos, retorted the company, and do not directly or indirectly suggest that the consumption of the energy drink would help to achieve certain health goals.

Red Bull further said that the text did not suggest its drink delivered a health benefit, made people better at doing their job through increased concentration or focus, or had any health benefit at all. It noted that the advert called for people to be efficient and complete their work faster to be able to leave early, which was not a health benefit.

However, the ASA upheld the complaint. While the tone of the advert was light-hearted and part of a wider consumer initiative, the penultimate line of the poem, “to leap every hurdle a hectic day brings,” implied that Red Bull could help improve consumers’ mental focus, concentration and energy levels, therefore increasing productivity, the ASA notes.

While the well-known motto of the brand, “Red Bull gives you wiiings” could also be said to be misleading, the ASA understands that the claim was trademarked before 1 January 2005, meaning that if construed as a health claim, it did not have to be accompanied by an authorized health claim as generally required by the Regulation. However, that exemption did not protect the use of other specific or implied health claims made about Red Bull in the advert.

“For those reasons, we, therefore, considered that consumers would understand that the advert implied a relationship between a food and health, specifically that Red Bull could help increase mental focus, concentration and energy levels. Because those were not claims authorized on the EU Register we concluded that the ad breached the Code,” ASA says in a statement.

Misleading consumers?
Red Bull is of course not the first company to be cautioned for featuring potential unsubstantiated health claims in their advertisements. 

Last summer, a television advertisement for Heinz Beanz was banned by ASA after a complainant challenged whether the advert included a nutrition claim, regarding protein, which complied with the UK’s advertising codes. It was the second time the advert had been banned after it had been edited following a previous ASA decision.  

The advert, which aired in February 2018, depicted a man arriving home to his family and being asked whether he was hungry. The man subsequently says: “Yeah I'm on a new regime” before taking a drink from the fridge and saying: “Dean calls the ‘three Ps’ … This is the last P: Protein, with high fiber and minimal fat.” 

In response, the woman says: “Right. We’re just having some beans.” The screen displays text stating: “High in protein. High in Fiber. Low in Fat,” then displaying a can of Heinz Beanz with the accompanying text, “Good for you, without going on about it.”

In response to the ASA decision, HJ Heinz Foods UK Ltd reportedly said that the ad “made the authorized nutrition claims that a portion of Heinz Beanz was high in protein, high in fiber and low in fat.”

Last year,  the UK’s Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) filed a complaint about an advert for Coco Pops Granola, from Kellogg’s, shown on children’s TV. While Coco Pops Granola is not a high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) product and not subject to advertising restrictions, the ASA agreed that the advert had the effect of promoting an HFSS product due to use of branding which is highly associated with adverts for other Coco Pops products – some of which are HFSS.

This was an important decision that set a precedent for protecting children from junk food marketing, said the OHA. However, following the ASA ruling, Kellogg’s demanded an independent review and, in November, ASA eventually decided to reverse its original decision

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