As Red Bull loses its wings in a false advertising settlement, consumers are asking the question of whether it is best to choose money or Red Bull purchase credit, as they must now decide how they would like to receive their piece of the “why can’t I fly” pie. Just a thought, though, for those who file a claim and request to accept Red Bull purchase credit instead of the cash payment, which might mean that the person likes the product and is, thus, unfairly benefiting from a legal claim where no settlement, then, should have ever taken place. Bygones.
No one, of course, is a proponent for false advertising. However, the recent class action suit filed against the makers of Red Bull does seem to border on the line between consumer protection and frivolous lawsuit. A plaintiff in the case argued that the company slogan, “Red Bull gives you wings,” was “deceptive” and fraudulent. The plaintiff rejected the idea that the slogan was just puffery and, unfortunately for Red Bull, it will now prove to be a $13 million brand image faux pas.
Despite agreeing to the settlement, the energy drink giant issued a statement afterward saying they only settled the lawsuit in order to avoid litigation but that they still consider their marketing to be both “truthful and accurate.” Though they deny any wrongdoing or liability, the company has pulled and revised its marketing claims and set up a website so people who purchased the product at any point within the last 12 years may register their claim by Mar. 2, 2015 and do so, surprisingly, with no proof of purchase required.
After final court approval the settlement will provide anyone who purchased at least one can from Jan. 1,2002 to Oct. 3, 2014 to receive their choice of $10 cash or $15 in Red Bull products. The final hearing will be May 1, 2015. The claim began in 2013 when Benjamin Caruthers filed a claim against Red Bull alleging they misrepresented the abilities of their product. The suit argued that the way in which the company presented their product made it appear as though they had a superior source of energy by comparison to alternatives such as a cup of coffee or various other options.
Once the court approves the settlement, the standard that this claim will set for future advertising agents could prove to be problematic in several ways, namely, by forcing advertisers to remain stringently literal when promoting their products. In the age of entertainment, this potential for requiring fully fact-based marketing does, on the one hand present a very good example for ethical business practice. However, on the other, it presents the sad possibility that eventually all advertisers will be forced to lose promotional grandeur and clip the wings of advertising creativity and instead present only the bottom line when it comes to the benefits provided by their products or risk having to pay a false ad settlement as in the case of Red Bull.
Approval of the settlement also holds the potential for opening the floodgates against other brands who have used metaphorical, satirical, or other similar methods to entice consumers to purchase their goods and services. In other words, opportunistic consumers may soon be looking for loopholes in marketing standards in order to profit from them in the same fashion.
The problem is that in alleging anyone believed they would grow wings and be able to fly after drinking a Red Bull, had it been taken to court, would have required that the plaintiff produce evidence showing such. That said, it may have been more effective not only for Red Bull but also for consumer advertising as a whole to have allowed the case to go to be heard by the courts. Red Bull could have kept its wings and may not have paid the false ad settlement. Instead of being in a position where the company loses, the court could have declared that this is not the season for frivolous lawsuits to return to mainstream and the future of advertising would still be an open playing field in which creativity and commerce could continue to collide.
With this in mind, perhaps it would it be too much to ask consumers to band together in the spirit of funny ads, and in honor of every Super Bowl commercial that ever made audiences laugh and choose to forgo the generous offering being bestowed by the makers of Red Bull. Red Bull is amazing. To submit a claim form consumers may go to the “Energy Drink Settlement” link below, or call 877-495-1568 and request a form by mail.
Red Bull Settlement Video:
Opinion by Bridgette Bryant
Photo by: YellowFilter – Flickr License