Red Bull sued for not giving people wings, settles out of court

At the intersection of neurotic dumbassery and opportunism lies the American legal system, where the beverage company that makes Red Bull just decided to settle after being sued for the failure to give people “wings,” as promised in their advertising.  It’s not the literal unfurling of feathery pinions from their shoulders customers were after – we’re not quite there yet, but maybe give it a couple of years.  No, they charged that the company was over-estimating the stimulant effects of the beverage, to a degree that went beyond “puffery” into “deceptive and fraudulent,” according to the suit.

Business Insider has more details on the case:

Red Bull says in its marketing that the drink can improve concentration and reaction speeds, but the plaintiff in the case said these claims were false and lacked scientific support. While the suit did not allege that plaintiffs were disappointed that they didn’t suddenly sprout wings, it does say that Red Bull relies a lot on terms like “wings” and “boost” to give consumers the impression that the drink gives people some sort of physical lift or enhancement.

If the proposed settlement is passed by the US District Court of the Southern District of New York, where the case was brought, Red Bull will be required to pay $6.5 million into a settlement fund within a week.

The settlement says Red Bull will reimburse customers disappointed the energy drink hasn’t lived up to their expectations with either a check for $10 or a voucher for $15 worth of Red Bull products. This could prove costly, as the class action suit covers the millions of people who have bought at least one can of Red Bull over the past 10 years.

$6.5 million to cover compensation to literally everyone who bought a can of this stuff over the past decade?  And the compensation can take the form of… a $15 voucher for the very same beverage they found criminally disappointing?  All righty then!

I’m sure there were all sorts of legal intricacies that made this complaint solid enough for Red Bull to settle, without admitting wrongdoing or liability, but the outcome seems more like a highly subjective judgment on hyperbolic advertising that could theoretically be applied to a lot of what rolls across the screen during a typical evening of television.  Where does this line get drawn?  Maybe it’s still safe to claim that your brand of beer is magically hand-delivered into the cooler by tiny scuba divers who chisel it from the bottom of an iceberg, but I see an awful lot of ads for sports drinks and foods that imply performance boosts.  I was not actually under the impression that any of them would make me competitive with a professional athlete, and I’m pretty sure there’s probably a disclaimer to that effect in the blizzard of tiny letters covering half the screen during every commercial, but evidently those disclaimers no longer provide sufficient dumbass shielding.  

Soon advertising will consist of white screens covered with simple messages that say, “Some people who don’t actually work for our company think our product is preferable to its competitors.”  Maybe a little harmonica music could be included, but don’t you dare use any musical selections that might imply consumers of your company’s products have a snowball’s chance in hell of scoring a date with Katy Perry!

This is also yet another story that demonstrates the relative ease of shaking down image-obsessed corporations with class-action suits.  Not to say that all such suits are without merit, mind you – I don’t mean to be a Red Bull in the legal china shop here – but it’s not hard to back companies into a corner and make them think a few million paid out in settlement money is preferable to a long court battle, with attendant negative press.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the lawyers in this case were not paid with $15 vouchers for energy drinks.


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