The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now investigating five deaths and one non-lethal heart attack that have been linked to Monster energy drinks. The FDA inquiry came after Monster Beverage Corp. was sued in California Superior Court by the parents of a 14-year-old Maryland girl who claim the company’s marquee product caused their daughter’s cardiac arrest.
The actions are just the latest salvo against Monster and other energy drink makers whose products have caused increasing concern among food and beverage safety advocates. As the inquiries have grown, we’ve heard little in response to allegations that consuming concentrated amounts of caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants could have horrible consequences – especially for children. All the while, the market for these drinks has seemed to expand exponentially.
Now, however, it seems the safety questions have reached critical mass. On the day the Maryland parents announced their lawsuit, Monster’s share price dropped 16 percent. That alone is evidence that the radio-silence strategy simply isn’t going to work anymore. Monster and others need to stop letting media critics, concerned parents, lawmakers, regulators, and plaintiffs’ attorneys tell their story for them. Even if Monster wins costly court cases, more are sure to follow unless the company takes steps to head them off now.
As a start, the company needs to engage its critics in the digital venues that dominate product perceptions today. Right now, Monster’s website is extremely dark, mysterious, foreboding and in many places, sexually themed. That’s perfect for attracting the disaffected, rebellious teenagers to whom the company markets. Unfortunately, about a third of the visitors to its site now are parents, lawyers, regulators and aides to crusading lawmakers. Their prejudices and suspicions are being reinforced by what they see. As such, the site needs to consider showing some less-threatening images and highlighting some positive information to meet the concerns of these critical audiences.
At the same time, Monster needs to enlist some expert support – whether they be food scientists, nutritionists, researchers, or even successful athletes and entertainers – that can attest to the safety and efficacy of its product. Above all, the company must repeatedly hammer home the best fact on its side now: that a can of Monster contains less caffeine than a Starbucks’ House Venti.
Both the third party experts and the most supportive facts need to be front and center in company blog posts and during every effort to engage the digital and traditional media influencers who are now controlling Monster’s story online and in the mainstream media.
If Monster tries to ride out a storm this size without protecting itself better, it will likely pay a very painful price in brand damage and litigation costs. Until now, only teens and 20-somethings were paying attention to Monster. Now it’s under the scrutiny of frightened moms and dads, their lawyers, and the FDA. That should be enough to energize any company.
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.