Energy Drinks – How misleading is the advertising?
A new commercial has been airing lately that is so full of doublespeak it could be used as an example of bad advertising. A pitchwoman in a lab coat proudly announces that 5-Hour Energy Rush had conducted a study and found that 73% of 3,000 doctors asked agree that they would recommend a low calorie energy drink to healthy patients who already drink energy drinks. Faint praise, indeed! Imagine how that question must have been worded. “If you had a healthy patient who was drinking an energy drink with, say, 30 grams of sugar, would you recommend that he switch to a low-calorie energy drink with no sugar?” It’s a wonder only 73% agreed.
Next, the woman dramatically points out (with text effects superimposed on the screen for emphasis), that there are only 4 calories (FOUR!) in 5-Hour Energy Rush. So we should check with our doctor…because they already checked with 3,000. She pats an impressive stack of dog-eared papers as she makes this point. It’s a new spin on that old chestnut, “Four out of five doctors recommend…”
The health industry is concerned about certain misleading aspects of energy drink marketing.
Amelia M. Arria, the director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland, had this to say, “In my opinion, some of the marketing messages go overboard about the health benefits of these drinks. The term ‘energy drink’ is misleading. Energy should come from calories — this is more about stimulation.”
New York takes action
Misleading advertising is only one problem with unregulated products. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently opened an investigation into label claims and subpoenaed several energy drink manufacturers. He’s looking at whether the companies Monster Beverage, Pepsi, and Living Essentials (the makers of 5-Hour Energy Rush) are violating federal law by advertising the drinks as dietary supplements as opposed to more stringently regulated food products.
The scope of the investigation also concerns the amount of caffeine that may be lurking undisclosed in the ingredient list. Common additives such as guarana and black tea extract may have additional caffeine not included in the advertised amount. The investigators are also concerned that all the ingredients might not be disclosed on the label.
The Trade Association returns fire
The American Beverage Association was quick to release a statement, noting that, while it could not comment on the New York investigation, energy drink ingredients and labeling is regulated by the FDA and all caffeine levels are fully disclosed. They added that the industry had voluntarily restricted marketing directly to children, and that energy drinks are not sold in schools.
Truth in advertising
You don’t see that statement much anymore. How far has advertising gone off the deep end? Is it time we pushed back against false claims? And would regulations about truth in advertising damage the economy even further? Is there a premium on truth today?