Big Tobacco, your time is up. You had your crack at America’s youth for the past 50 years.
Whether it was through Joe Camel or those trendy magazine ads, you covertly appealed to the youth of this nation though an advertising blitz the likes of which capitalism had never seen.
But, soon the country woke up and placed restriction after restriction on your advertising methods.
Unfortunately, this seems to have left a huge power vacuum in the “unhealthy and addictive youth products” category. Enter Red Bull and friends.
The Red Bull advertising seems to have taken a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook: Appeal to trendy youngsters and cause them to become addicted to your body-altering product for life.
While cigarettes may have appealed to James Dean wannabes
in the 1950s, Red Bull is going for the “extreme” market in the new millennium. Red Bull routinely sponsors motocross events, stunt planes and has even purchased the naming rights to a Major League Soccer team.
If one steps back and considers what demographic these events usually cater to, the advertising tactic is apparent. Who are the majority of extreme sports fans?
Young people. How about the majority of soccer fans? Even younger people.
You may be thinking it’s a business, and businesses can advertise to whomever they choose.
While you may be right, keep in mind that Red Bull is not just any other business. They are not selling candy or toys, but body-altering, chemically-infused bottles of caffeine to those who really don’t need it.
While billing itself as an energy drink, catering to “top athletes,” it does little but cram a whole lot of sugar and caffeine into our body. The can carries a warning in several countries, cautioning children and pregnant women to avoid consuming Red Bull.
While the warning attempts do defer children, I find it hard to believe that the company is serious about keeping young people away, especially given their advertising record.
According to the BBC, numerous deaths have been linked to Red Bull consumption. One 18-year-old died after consuming
three cans of Red Bull and then playing basketball.
Two Swedish bar patrons died after mixing Red Bull with Vodka – something Red Bull warns against on its label.
“In terms of the amounts of carbohydrates, these high concentrations will slow the rate that fluid is absorbed from the intestines and into the bloodstream, and will consequently impede rehydration during exercise so they can lead to further dehydration,” said Tracy Casella, a health specialist for the Temple Center for Obesity Research and Education.
Casella noted that a moderate amount of carbohydrates can prolong performance, but recommended the safer levels of Gatorade over the high concentration of Red Bull.
Red Bull has refuted all claims of being linked with the aforementioned deaths, stating that any link is purely circumstantial – and they are right.
However, when Red Bull sits right next to Sprite on store shelves, customers may be fooled into believing that Red Bull is as safe as any mixer.
Or when Red Bull sponsors athletic events, customers may be fooled into thinking that the product is suited as a Gatorade replacement. Red Bull even has its own online sports-themed magazine.
This is akin to McDonalds sponsoring your local Weight Watchers, or Budweiser buying naming rights to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Strange and unusual deaths associated with a questionable
product: does it sound familiar?
While Red Bull isn’t exactly causing lung cancer in the masses, some of the adverse effects should not be ignored. If Red Bull is marketed as a drink for athletes and simply stimulates the metabolism as the company’s literature says, then why all of the strange deaths?
Why does Red Bull insist on being associated with athletics, despite the fact that many of the ingredients are not recommended to be consumed during high-paced activity?
There’s no need to yank Red Bull off of the shelves, but the branding and advertising of Red Bull is unethical and needs to be examined, as do the exact effects of the drink.
America made this mistake with cigarettes; we need to truly know the effects of what we are placing into our bodies.
As far as we know, Red Bull might be giving us a lot more than wings.
Sean Blanda can be reached at