Red Bull’s Hit

If you’ve purchased a Red Bull within the last twelve years, that company lied to you. At least, according to Benjamin Careathers. Mr. Careathers filed a lawsuit on Jan. 16th of 2013 in U.S. District Court alleging that the slogan “Red Bull Gives You Wings” (and other advertising practices) were “deceptive and fraudulent.”

Read more on Law360, BEVNET, Google and the actual settlement website. Red Bull decided to settle rather than fight it out in court. A statement by the company said, “Red Bull settled the lawsuit to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation.”

Essentially, Careathers won, and everyone who’s enjoyed a Red Bull since 2002 can join him and claim money or (ironically) some Red Bull products. Which brings us to the part where I’m furious.

I read the complaint. That’s how mad I am about this lawsuit. The crux of Careathers’ argument is that Red Bull promises to “significantly improve a consumer’s physiological and mental performance beyond what a simple cup of coffee” would do, alleging its benefits are not substantially better than what one would achieve in an equivalent amount of caffeine.

Red Bull is glorified caffeine and sugar, and this is where the suit claims injury. There’s no guarana, no cocaine, no new proprietary chemicals. Just like it says on the label, the one literally wrapped around the beverage. Every sip taken by every Red Bull consumer brings their face achingly close to that label, and this is where I get frustrated.

Red Bull, in my eyes, did nothing wrong. They didn’t lie about the contents of their drink; they didn’t endanger their consumers. Their sin was being too good at selling their product. They developed an effective slogan and design, and built a whole culture around their product. For this, they get punished.

To add to my point, I will probably never buy a Red Bull. I’ve had it, I didn’t catch the hype, and I quit. I am perfectly aligned to participate in this settlement, but I won’t.

I believe consumers, including Benjamin Careathers, have always had a fair choice in energy drinks. Any one of the people participating in this settlement had many chances to read the label, understand what they were paying for, and find a better or cheaper product. That is the promise of a free market economy.

I won’t pretend that participating in this settlement “destroys capitalism and America itself!” Nor will I shout that “complaints like this hurt business and scare companies away from creativity and innovation!” I believe $13 million is no more than a raised eyebrow to any substantial corporation, and it’s simply the cost of doing business.

I will say that I don’t think you should collect from Red Bull, even if you qualify. I think it sends the wrong message, one that we is increasingly advocating: there’s always a safety net.

There are lots of great laws that protect people from themselves and others when said people are vulnerable or exploited. There are also lots of laws that safety net people from knowing better. I recognize that’s a hard legal line to draw, but it makes me crazy. Common sense is everyone’s responsibility.

Mr. Careathers has the full right to feel misled and swindled, but I don’t think he has the right to win because he didn’t read a label or evaluate how much he was spending on glorified sodas. Just like I shouldn’t get to sue a ladder company because I put my full weight on the rung labeled “Not A Step.”