How a 2013 Lawsuit Against Red Bull Changed the Energy Drink World

Where marketing, caffeine and wings converge

Red Bull cans
Did a 2013 lawsuit change the energy drink world?
EKSRX/Creative Commons

Whether in a television commercial or on billboards or drink packaging, odds are good that you’ve heard the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings” at some point in your life. What you think of it — and of Red Bull’s various energy drinks — may vary. But it did lead to one of the decade’s most surreal moments in marketing history in 2013, when a man named Benjamin Careathers sued the energy drink company over false advertising.

Now, Careathers wasn’t arguing that drinking a can of Red Bull would literally cause him to sprout wings, in the style of Channing Tatum at the end of Jupiter Ascending. The lawsuit itself came down to whether or not a can of Red Bull offered more caffeine than a cup of coffee. The two were deemed equal, and so Careathers won the suit.

Now, at Better Marketing, Andrei Tapalaga revisited Careathers’s suit and explored how it changed the world of energy drinks. Tapalaga argues that, while Red Bull endured the lawsuit and remain atop the industry, they’re now in a position similar to that of Coca-Cola in the soda world: a significant player, but also less flexible than some of their counterparts.

Tapalaga notes that a number of energy drinks have pivoted to a powdered form under the auspices of being healthier than, say, Red Bull. Could the future of energy drinks come via a very different group of people?

It’s not only the point of buying more for less but the better marketing used to attract the exact segment of the market that uses such a product. That is a market segment that is growing more than ever: the gamers.

It’s a fascinating look at a constantly-changing space — and how the impact of that 2013 lawsuit is still felt.

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