A poster for Red Bull seen on the London Underground showed two women in front of a can of Red Bull. This was accompanied by a poem that encouraged people to finish work an hour early on Friday – an initiative that Red Bull says is part of its humorous brand ethos.
While Red Bull Company Ltd says the advert did not imply that the energy drink could help achieve such goals, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the advert implied that Red Bull could help increase mental focus, concentration and energy levels: claims that were not authorised on the EU register.
Red Bull campaign: Finish by 4pm
A poster for Red Bull, seen on 11 September 2018 on the London Underground, showed two cartoon women smiling and whistling in front of a can of Red Bull. It tied in with Red Bull’s initiative, the 4pm Finish, which encouraged workers to leave one hour early on Friday 14 September.
The text read: ‘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 clock showed the time as 4pm, with a flag that stated: ‘For a flying 4pm finish on 14th September, visit redbull.co.uk/4pmfinish’. Following the flag were several items of stationery.
A complainant challenged whether the ad implied Red Bull had a beneficial effect on health, in particular focus and concentration, which was a health claim which must comply with the Code.
Defending the advert, Red Bull said that the initiative to finish work at 4pm was evidence of the brand’s humorous ethos. It said the advert did not – either directly or implicitly – suggest that Red Bull would help achieve certain goals.
The brand said it had also produced a range of general tips and guidance from life coaches, professionals and others on how to manage time as part of the initiative.
The poster did not show the product being consumed; and the only reference to the product in the text was the slogan ‘Red Bull Gives You Wiiings’.
Red Bull can give you wings – but not leap hurdles
According to EU Regulation - which is reflected in the UK’s CAP Code - only health claims authorised on the EU Register are permitted in marketing communications for foods. Health claims state, suggest or imply a relationship between a food, or ingredient, and health.
ASA CAP 15.1
Marketing communications that contain nutrition or health claims must be supported by documentary evidence to show they meet the conditions of use associated with the relevant claim, as specified in the EU Register. Claims must be presented clearly and without exaggeration. CAP 15.1.
Red Bull’s slogan ‘Red Bull Gives You Wiiings’ was trademarked before 1 January 2005, meaning it is exempt from EU health claim regulation (specifically Article 28(2) of Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods (the Regulation)) and is permitted until January 2022.
But the ASA took issue with a different part of the ad: the penultimate line of the poem that says “… to leap every hurdle a hectic day brings”. It said this implied that Red Bull could help improve consumers’ mental focus, concentration and energy levels (and therefore increase productivity).
“The ASA considered that while the ad’s tone was light-hearted, the scenario it presented of being overwhelmed or busy at work was one that would be familiar and relatable to consumers,” it said in its ruling.
“We considered the picture of the can, the artwork and the text made clear the ad was for Red Bull and that any implied health claims in the ad were in respect of that product.
“For those reasons we therefore considered that consumers would understand that the ad 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 authorised on the EU Register we concluded that the ad breached the Code.”
The right and wrong side of regulations
The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form. It told Red Bull Company Ltd not to imply that Red Bull could increase focus and concentration when those claims were not authorised on the EU Register.
Responding to the ruling, a Red Bull spokesperson said: “The ad called for people to aspire to complete their daily work in a short amount of time so that they would be able to leave early on a day in September last year to enjoy their day. It is one of a long series of whimsical, humorous, ironic cartoons with which people all around the world have become familiar over many years.”
In 2018 a separate Red Bull advert was challenged on the basis that it implied Red Bull had a beneficial effect on brain function: another health claim that must be authorized on the EU Register. In this case, however, the ASA said the humorous and far-fetched nature of the ad meant consumers were unlikely to make a connection between the drink and brain function and thus stayed on the right side of advertising regulations.