Consumer Perception of Energy Drinks Plummets

Amid the recent wave of negative publicity surrounding energy drinks, and the ire of some elected leaders calling for greater oversight and regulation of the category, consumer perception of the top energy drink brands has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, according to consumer research firm YouGov.

YouGov, which measures the impact that word of mouth, news, and advertising has on brands, found that consumer perception of Monster Energy, Red Bull, and 5 Hour Energy has plummeted over the past two weeks following  a rash of negative publicity surrounding energy drinks. Most of the damaging exposure stemmed from widespread media coverage of a recent lawsuit filed against Monster, which alleges that the high caffeine content in its flagship beverage caused the death of a 14 year old girl last December.

Also impacting consumer perception of energy drinks are reports of a energy drink-related incidents maintained by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which linked consumption of Monster Energy to six deaths and 15 hospitalizations since 2009, according to the agency’s Food Safety Adverse Event Reporting System.

To measure brand perception, YouGov interviews 5,000 U.S. consumers each weekday and asks respondents: “If you’ve heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?” The responses are compiled and measured by YouGov’s BrandIndex and each brand is assigned a “buzz score.”

YouGov BrandIndex’s Buzz Score, October 1 - 25, 2012

In its most recent findings, the consumer research firm found that on Monday, October 22, the first business day after the lawsuit against Monster was filed, both Monster and Red Bull had enjoyed their highest buzz scores all year, with Monster logging a 7 score, and Red Bull achieving a score of 5. Meanwhile, 5 Hour Energy registered a 10 buzz score. Four days later, following an avalanche of news about the Monster lawsuit and the FDA reports, Red Bull’s score had plummeted to -22, Monster’s sank to -18, and finally ending up at -26 by Friday, October 26.

Energy drinks may face an even tougher climb back to positive consumer opinions about the category, as U.S.  Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have collaborated on a new letter sent to the FDA – the third sent by Durbin, and the second co-authored by Blumenthal.

The letter states that the two senators “are extremely concerned by reports of five deaths following the consumption of Monster energy drinks and a recent [Consumer Reports] study showing that many energy drinks labels do not provide caffeine information to consumers.”  To address their concerns, Durbin and Blumenthal ask the FDA to “quickly identify and recommend remedies for weaknesses and loopholes in current law that are exploited by energy drink manufacturers in order to avoid oversight and offer products containing additives and high levels of caffeine that have not been proven safe.”