Red Bull escapes ASA ban following complaints around 'false health claims'

Red Bull has escaped an ad ban from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), after the watchdog declined to uphold complaints that a series of cartoons promoting the energy drink had made false health claims.

The ASA investigated two spots, broadcast in October 2017, after receiving a single complaint about each one. The first ad featured a man playing a game of chess against a robot, and while the robot engaged in trash-talk its human opponent was shown guzzling a can of Red Bull, prompting the machine to become frustrated and cry foul.

The ad ended with a narrator reading out the brand’s familiar refrain, ‘Red Bull Gives You Wiiings.’

In the other spot, two mobile phones were shown sitting on a park bench in winter, bemoaning their abandonment by their owners in favour of friendship, exercise and fresh air. One phone remarked: ‘We should have stopped this Red Bull – it vitalises body and mind’ before a narrator closes the spot, mocking the characters’ state of affairs with the company’s slogan.

In its defence, Red Bull said its ads were "humorous and fantastical", and that chess-related boasts in one of the ads' scripts would act as clues to viewers that the product lacked nutritional benefits.

Both ads were investigated after complainants said they encouraged the belief that Red Bull had a positive impact on health and brain functions, and that the company was making claims without authorisation from the EU Register of nutrition and health claims, an EU-approved list of foods with scientifically proven benefits.

Responding to the allegations, the Red Bull Company noted that its slogan ‘Red Bull Gives You Wiiings’ was “clearly fanciful and without a specific meaning that could be taken literally by consumers.” The firm pointed out that the robot featured was a “far-fetched tin-man” whose “exaggerated robotic noises and voice” were in line with the surreal tone of its past commercials. Additionally, the brand said that the robot’s boast that: 'I can calculate 90 million moves in advance', was further evidence that the ad was not to be taken at face value, since there are not 90 million possible moves in the game of chess.

The ASA dismissed both complaints, agreeing with Red Bull that the phrase ‘It vitalises body and mind’ would not be taken as a health claim since the slogan has been used by the brand since 2005.

Red Bull’s cartoons, which have been running for close to 30 years, are created by independent agency Kastner & Partners.

Despite the energy drink brand’s escape this week, Red Bull has been caught out by its fantastic claims before. In 2014, it was ordered to pay $13m to consumers, because its original tagline (with the ‘Wings’ spelling) implied consumers would receive a physical and mental boost.

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