The Red Bull Scam -- Why Are So Many People Buying Into Its Deceptive 'Energy-Giving' Marketing?
"Red Bull gives you wings," Earth's most popular energy drink by market share promises in its commercials. Well, Icarus had kickass wings. Remember what happened to him? Crash and burn, baby.
What Red Bull does give you is crazy amounts of caffeine compressed into a tiny can of hope. Conjoined with its various sponsorships of similarly extreme events like Formula One racing, air shows, outdoor action sports and much more, Red Bull's overheating marketing arms have major global reach. It has deeply penetrated popular culture, down to its soccer stadiums and sex-fueled clubs, where the drink is popularly mixed with vodka and other alcohol standbys. In the process, Red Bull has helped create a race of hyperspeeding robots annually swallowing over a billion cans of Red Bull, only to crash and burn shortly afterward. At which point, they drink it again to wake up, and restart their seriously stressed engines.
"The main ingredient of concern in Red Bull is the caffeine," David Schardt, senior nutritionist for Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), explained to AlterNet. "It can interfere with sleep, and people can quickly become dependent on it and suffer withdrawal symptoms like drowsiness, irritability and more if they don't get a regular dose. More than 200mg of caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage. And young adults who consume both an energy drink and alcohol are more likely to get hurt in accidents than if they just drank alcohol. Probably because they don't realize how impaired they are."
Ironically, that impairment is central to Red Bull's allure and power. According to the company, its drink is specifically designed for hard-partiers in search of warm oblivion, as well as those suffering from occupational and summary other anxieties.
"Red Bull has always been and always will be more than just a hot secret for the night owl and the non-stop party-animal," the energy drink's official site trumpets. "It is appreciated by a wide range of people, such as the overworked taxi driver, the stressed manager, the exam-anxious student and the pressured journalist."
As a professionally pressured journalist, I can attest to the power of caffeine. As can the postmodern hordes that have swelled the reputations and earnings reports of market-moving Wall Street knockouts like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Starbucks and so on. Based on the Thai energy drink Krating Daeng and gentrified by Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull's global profile has lately been placed alongside those storied, culturally accepted drug pushers. But our collective reliance on increasing doses of caffeinated fixes like Red Bull and other so-called energy drinks -- mixed with sex, drugs, alcohol and exhaustion -- is turning us into a race of at-all-cost winners that just can't help but lose where it counts most. Our bodies.
"They're the uppers of the new generation," argued Katherine Tallmadge, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of Diet Simple. "People are taking them like speed," she told AlterNet by phone. "But too much caffeine makes you jittery, raises your blood pressure, and there are consequences for your heart. If you're young and you're tired all the time, you should look at that from a medical or nutritiional point of view, and see what you're missing. When we're eating healthy, getting rest and pursuing physical activity, we have all the energy we need."
But we don't, for a variety of both mundane and controversial reasons. From too much work to too little money to even less motivation, thanks to bought-off political, sports and media complexes that equally push hyperconsumption and hyperactivity, we're spent. Our hyperreal bubbles have popped: Fears of a laughably titled double-dip recession, which is just a depression without terminological balls, are ascendant again, and practically guaranteed in Europe. Real unemployment is well over 10 percent, while its acceptable marketing is targeted at around 9.7 percent. (Don't you feel better already?) America is drowning in oil in the Gulf, and in resource wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.