Update On Red Bull Controversy

Red Bull cans
Photo:Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.de

The Guardian is reporting that UK Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) has received 110 complaints regarding a recent advert for Red Bull energy drink. One complaint is from the Titanic Heritage Trust. “”Red Bull is using a tragic event to promote and sell its products without care for the people that were lost,” states Howard Nelson who founded the trust. The advert features a crate containing Red Bull being raised for loading onto a ship. Phillip Littlejohn (a descendent of Titanic survivor Alexander James Littlejohn )states he wants the ad banned.

Trying to get government to shut it down is not the way to go here. You shame them in public and get lots of people to send emails, letters, and even protest outside their offices about the ad. Getting government to shut down the ad smacks of something else, namely censorship. Free speech means just that: you can say dumb things and others have the exact same right to call you nuts for it. Red Bull did not make a patently false claim about their product. Much has been said of the use of their advertising slogan “Red Bull gives you wings” aspect. The cartoon Captain Smith scoffs at the need for wings on his ship.  Yet we all know that wings in this sense is not avian wings, but more of the effects of Red Bull on your system. Energy drinks are supposed to lift you up and get you going.

At the same time, when connected to Titanic and its well known story, it does seem to imply it might have an effect. What kind of an effect is never stated. Now if a advert for a helicopter were used to show how they could have saved more lives in 1912, that would make sense (although implausible since that technology did not exist then). It is possible some are filling in what they think the ad is saying rather than what it is not. Does it insult the memory of Titanic? Consider the many Titanic themed t-shirts out there. Some, noted in this blog, have Titanic Swim Team or “Don’t Worry! There is plenty of water for all” emblazoned on them Now those I find more offensive since they trivialize a terrible event where people died.

Red Bull’s strategy to use humor is always a risky move when it comes to historical events or people. For Red Bull it comes down to a simple answer: did it generate more or less sales? If the ad generated controversy and talk but flat sales, then expect the ad to end after its natural course and never be seen again. On the other hand, if people were amused rather than appalled, then perhaps more of these will be coming down the line. Imagine the possibilities. Julius Caesar offered Red Bull before his fateful encounter and laughing the need for wings. Or General Custer being offered a canteen of Red Bull before his infamous battle at Little Big Horn.

Source: Red Bull’s Titanic Ad Could Face Investigation After 110 Complaints(24 Sep 2013,The Guardian)