According to a report from BevNet, energy drink manufacturer Red Bull has settled a proposed class action lawsuit filed against it for $13 million. The suit, filed last year by Benjamin Careathers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleged that Red Bull’s signature “It gives you wings” slogan is false and misleads customers about the drink’s superiority. While the company’s advertisements may in fact show Red Bull drinkers growing wings, the plaintiff alleges that Red Bull offers no increased performance, concentration, or reaction speed. As you might expect, Red Bull has denied any liability.
We assume – and hope – that the plaintiff didn’t actually believe Red Bull would give him actual wings. (We doubt New York recognizes the “negligent failure to bestow wings” cause of action.). In fact, we seriously doubt that Red Bull would have paid out millions on such claims even if it was concerned about litigation costs. As such, we will refrain, mostly, from commenting on the absurdity of such a lawsuit and focus on the more plausible allegations.
This lawsuit was never about wings, but rather, it centered upon whether Red Bull actually delivers that energy fix we all crave. After all, that energy boost is why people spend $3 on an 8-ounce drink in the first place, right? Or, $2 for a cup of Starbucks coffee, for that matter. The suit, however, alleges that Red Bull’s primary active ingredient (caffeine) is the same as that of coffee and, thus, it is not worthy of the premium price. Maybe so, but the suit fails to take into account the cognitive effects that come along with drinking an “energy drink.” Even if it offers a mere placebo effect, the energy drink didn’t become a multi-billion dollar industry without repeat customers.
The truth is that the energy drink is not some new phenomenon. For centuries, people have been looking for ways to give themselves an extra burst of energy. Coffee has been, and continues to be, the drink of choice for many across the globe. However, in the 1960’s, Japanese manufacturer Taisho upped the ante when it released Lipovitan D – an energizing tonic sold in mini-bottles. Thereafter, other beverage companies joined in the game. Pop culture legend Jolt Cola was once marketed to the masses as having “all the sugar and twice the caffeine.” Those were the days. Even the soft drink giants, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have tried their hand at distributing coffee replacements over the years. Today, the game has evolved into the billion dollar “energy drink” industry featuring companies like Red Bull and Monster.
Our guess is that this lawsuit will have little, if any, impact on the energy drink industry. For those angry about Red Bull’s alleged false advertising, Red Bull has placed $6.5 million of the $13 million settlement into a fund for consumers. If you have purchased a Red Bull in the last 10 years, you can go here for a $10 refund or two free Red Bull products. No word on whether the free products give you wings.