Energy drinks have become huge business. From Five Hour Energy on Jim Furyk’s cap to Red Bull skydiving from the heavens, their marketing is among the most visible. But if I was in that business, I would be nervously preparing my crisis plan right now. They have a Monster problem heading their way.
Monster is the leading company in this space with 39% market share. Ironically, their company used to be Hansen Natural, a drink you see in the store but that has a decidedly health-oriented sense about it. But the FDA just released a report linking five teenage deaths to their energy drink, The New York Times did a story on the report, and on Friday parents of a 14 year old Maryland girl filed a lawsuit against the Corona, California company following the death of their daughter. She died, apparently of cardiac arrest after consuming two 24 ounce cans of the drink in two days.
I went to Monster’s website to see how they were responding. Nothing. Nothing but the loud, garish, youth-oriented screaming graphics. Interesting to think how a crisis response about deaths of teenagers can be handled on a website like that. Makes a strong argument for a crisis site that has a bit of a more sober look to it.
The news report include buried deep some rather bland denials from the company saying they are not aware of any deaths linked to their product, and, more problematically, saying the teenagers in the FDA report had underlying health issues. Oooh, dangerous ground there. First, where is the empathy? Second, if that is the case that drinking this is dangerous when you have certain conditions, where is the legal disclaimer.
Here is what will happen next. This company, and Red Bull, and all the others will quickly face a slug of lawsuits. We will start seeing on our favorite reality shows new ads from class action kind Jim Sokolove new ads saying: “If anyone in your family ever drank or even got near someone who drank one of these energy drinks (long scrawl of brands) and ever got sick or died, then call right now because you may be entitled to compensation.”
Next will come the politicians who will demand investigations and following that, new legislation. If they are weak-kneed they will simply ask for disclaimers and disclosures. But, if they are like New York Mayor, they may either call for a ban, or for legislation that says you can only buy it in four ounce cans and it is illegal to consume more than one four ounce can in a 24 hour period.
And right now, every enterprising reporter in the country is looking for examples of heart problems in young people somehow linked to energy drinks.
OK, so my social commentary is kind of taking over this very significant issue. The point is this: One, energy drinks are in for a rough ride. Two, don’t be stupid and fight against disclosures of ingredients. Three, for goodness sake, express some concern for those who may actually be hurt by using these products. Four, get pretty serious about looking into potential health risks, particularly if they are related to specific underlying health conditions and if so, get very aggressive about warning potential users of the dangers. Five, get ready to communicate and no more so than on social media because that’s where your key consumers are and more importantly, that’s where opinion is going to formed about these issues. (As I write this, Twitter has numerous stories going on about the FDA report, including from major news outlets like LA ABC news affiliate which is clearly working on a story. However, Monster Energy’s twitter page is tweeting along with marketing energy that suggests its tweeters may have had one Monster 24 ounce too many themselves.)