Ribena – 4 times as deceitful

7 05 2007

Ribena’s damage-managementPR department have taken to the TV to try & salvage any semblance of respect they might once have had (albeit undeservedly). In an evening 30s ad-spot, GlaxoSmithKline Australia’s casually dressed MD, John Sayers, strolls through healthy-looking rural scenery to apologise for screwing their customers.

Their own product’s labeled nutritional advice didn’t stand up to the rigours of two New Zealand high school students’ science class experiment performed in 2004 to confirm the veracity of the product’s labeled nutritional advice, and thus drew their attention to other aspects of the product’s label – a long-standing claim of “4 times the vitamin C of oranges”.

These two high-school girls in fact found, using standard high school science lab equipment, that these Ribena Ready-To-Drink products had very little vitamin C, with the competitor products they expected to fare poorly actually containing 4 times that of Ribena (which doesn’t sound too hot either).

The girls approached Ribena directly by mail, but were ignored, then after a follow-up phone call were brushed aside with the glib response that the ‘4 times’ claim referred to blackcurrants vs oranges, not Ribena vs other juice products. So they look it to the media, and NZ’s TV ONE consumer affairs show “Fair Go” put it to air in late-2004, thus bringing it to the attention of NZ’s Commerce Commission (not to mention GSK themselves for the second time). Despite this, in 2005 Ribena proceeded with high profile advertising, including television, perpetuating its “4 times”claim.

Over two years later, the NZ regulator announced its findings a few months ago. GSK pleaded guilty to 15 representative charges (80 actual) of misleading consumers in both the nutritional information, as well as the claims of “4 times the vitamin C content of oranges”, ordered to pay $217 500, amend its nutritional advice to reflect reality & stop claiming the “4 times” bullshit.

GSK’s TV ad, and the accompanying http://www.ribenathefacts.com.au, has Mr Sayers claiming that “(our) testing method used to determine the level of vitamin C was unreliable” (how can one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world be less reliable than a high school science lab?), “and we were unaware of this at the time” (except for the 2005 ad campaign following the bad rap you got from ‘Fair Go’?), and that ‘vitamin C levels had deteriorated over time and didn’t meet that claimed on the label’. Who knows for how long Ribena’s Ready-To-Drink product quality has been “deteriorating”. Apparently they’ve now removed all references to vitamin C & amended their nutritional advice, and made amends in the NZ popular press.

Does anyone really buy the “we didn’t notice there was almost no vitamin C in the product we heavily advertise as having so much vitamin C” bullshit? GlaxoSmithKline’s Ribena fraud is a textbook example of Stupid Greedy White Men hard at work with their heads up their arses trying to make that extra buck. When any company (or individual) seeks to defraud its own customers, they create a climate of mistrust amongst consumers in general – one in which 14-year-olds, inculcated with such scepticism, seek to verify the labeled nutritional advice of innocuous fruit juice drinks, but find the truth lies elsewhere, thus reinforcing the climate of mistrust.

The end result? A company essentially drags itself through the mud & damages its own genuine good potential as a supplier of nutritional products, and takes us all a step closer to life as a consumer being such a risk/rip-off that we must test products ourselves – what a fracking drag! :-(

p.s. when i first saw the TV ad, hearing Sayer’s statements escalate, i was actually waiting for a punch-line like “but no!  our products in fact have FIVE times as much vitamin C!”.  but no such punch-line was to be heard.  see!  i can be an optimist, it’s just that i’m perpetually prepared to be disappointed by large corporations.  i wonder how that came to be…