The ASA banned the campaign’s TV and poster ads after receiving 63 complaints, including objections from the Natural Hydration Council (NHC), a trade body representing bottled water producers.
The scientific panel of the organisation incorporates experienced nutrition scientists.
The move recalls the fire Lucozade and similar brands came under from scientists and pressure groups during the London 2012 Olympics for making what opponents said were insufficiently substantiated health claims.
Did not stick to wording
EFSA also faced criticism for validating such claims. However, in this instance, the ASA upheld complaints about the ad because it did not stick closely enough to the wording of the health claims EFSA allowed for sports drinks.
The Lucozade Sport TV and outdoor ad campaign launched in January 2013 and featured footballer Gareth Bale and rugby players Chris Robshaw, Richie Gray and Leigh Halfpenny.
The TV ad (below) showed two groups of men, who were being monitored by lab equipment and technicians, running on treadmills.
It ended with the text ‘Hydrates and fuels you better than water’ while showing the water-drinking group collapsing in a heap and the Lucozade Sport group continuing to run with ease and celebrating.
According to the NHC, a survey of 2,000 consumers in February 2013, conducted by OnePoll, indicated nearly 80% of people would choose water for hydration before seeing the commercial.
However, after seeing the ad, 55% of respondents said they understood the message was that Lucozade Sport was better than water for hydration during any exercise.
The ASA upheld the complaints for two reasons. First, because the poster ads failed to sufficiently convey that it was the “carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions” in the drink that enabled it to perform better than water, as per EFSA’s allowed health claim.
The second reason was because both ads failed to adequately convey what “fuels" meant in the context of the EFSA decision.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which sold the Lucozade brand to Suntory last September, argued its use of “fuels” was close enough to EFSA’s allowed wording “contributes to the maintenance of endurance performance during prolonged endurance exercise”. The ASA disagreed.
In addition, it said EFSA had made no provision for comparing the product favourably with water, and so upheld complaints about this.
The NHC and others welcomed the ASA’s decision, but also used it as an opportunity to resurrect challenges to the science behind sports drinks assertions.
“We are pleased with the decision by the ASA to uphold our complaint regarding the high profile Lucozade Sport advertising campaign,” said NHC general manager Kinvara Carey.
“There is already much confusion over the role of sports drinks and for the majority of people participating in exercise and sporting activities, water is all that is needed for effective hydration.
“The majority of sports drinks contain calories and may only have a positive contribution to make to professional athletes and those participating in high intensity, endurance activity.”
Professor Paul Gately, Carnegie professor of exercise and obesity and director of MoreLife, a group tackling obesity, at Leeds Metropolitan University, commented: “The claims made in this advert were not supported by the scientific evidence for carbohydrate electrolyte solutions.
“Sports drinks can help to hydrate during and after intense, endurance exercise, but there are many factors to take into consideration, including how physically active the person is to begin with and what they have consumed that day.”