Ribena and the Scooby Doo-like PR Disaster

Ribena.jpg‘Larry Liebena’ – courtesy of Robert Fiddaman. ‘Full of Vitamin Bullshit’, the caption reads.
“If it hadn’t been for those pesky kids!” Like the plot from an old Scooby Doo cartoon, GlaxoSmithKline has found itself in the middle of an unseemly PR disaster over its false and misleading advertising claims concerning the Vitamin C content of its supposedly ‘healthy’ Ribena brand drink.

Who’d’ve thought that one of the world’s most powerful drug and food companies could be undone by two 14-year old New Zealand high school pupils? But it was! The two kids performed their own science tests to determine the sugar and Vit C content of Ribena, and found the content claims to be completely false. Contacting the company, the pupils’ letters and emails were ignored then fobbed off by the powerful corporate. After securing some media interest, tho, GSK has been investigated and found guilty of false and misleading advertising, marketing and packaging, and now faces up to $3million in fines; also, the company’s new Ads don’t mention any Vitamin C content!

As a quick case reader, the issues include (not in order);

  • false product claims by GlaxoSmithKline
  • abuse of corporate power
  • infusing arrogance in stakeholder relations (with the kids)
  • inept PR handling leading to adverse publicity
  • demonstration of consumer empowerment
  • massive product rebranding and new communication campaign costs
  • reputational damage
  • dent in stakeholder confidence
  • and $3mill financial penalty via the punitive fines

Other questions also needing answers;

  • where was Glaxo’s CSR and corporate leadership?
  • Where was GSK’s scientists and product teams in all this duplicity?
  • Where were the food and drink marketing regulatory bodies before the school pupils got involved?
  • What was the role of advertising and PR agencies in perpetuating the Ribena health myth?

Transcript of radio story [ABC AM]

7 thoughts on “Ribena and the Scooby Doo-like PR Disaster

  1. Today’s Age reports that the actual fine was NZ$217,000, some way off the possible $3mill as widely reported. To say GSK got off lightly is an understatement given they’d misleadingly stated 7mg of Vitamin C per 100 – there was no detectable Vit C – and that there was 4 times as much Vit C in Ribena than in orange juice. The teenage science heroes Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasan were disappointed in the court ruling, with Jenny commenting that the fine ‘wouldn’t even put a dent in their pocket!” Wise beyond her years, I say. Bravo, girls.


  2. Thankgod these kids are our future, this ribena disaster has come as a big warning to all that companies such as GSK which report on their website as making 300 million on this product have done so through misleading consumers especially mothers who thought they were doing the right thing by giving their children this product in their lunch boxes. its interesting to note though that this has taken so long to come out and that it took 14 year olds also.


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