Done in by a Van Damme Claim: U.K. Bans Vitaminwater Ads

Poster Campaign Touting Health, Mood Benefits Run Afoul of Regulators

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Having already sparked a class action lawsuit and complaints from the NCAA in the U.S., Vitaminwater's marketing approach is now running into problems abroad.

Coca-Cola Great Britain's poster campaign for Glaceau Vitaminwater has been banned in the U.K. because they make misleading claims about the drink's health benefits, according to regulatory agency Advertising Standards Authority, which reviewed complaints against the ads.

One poster was headlined "More muscles than brussels." The complaints challenged the implication that the drink's health benefits made it equivalent to eating brussels sprouts -- a popular U.K. winter vegetable. Coca-Cola claimed that the phrase was instead a reference to former action-movie star Jean Claude Van Damme, who is commonly labeled the "Muscles from Brussels," referring to his origins in the Belgian city.

Another ad claimed, "Keep perky when you're feeling murky." It jokingly advised consumers that if you drink Glaceau Vitaminwater you won't have to waste your sick days on real illness, and can use them instead "to just, erm, not go in." Coca-Cola insisted that the "perky" claim was about mood rather than health, and that it did not imply that the drink could prevent illness.

The ASA also received complaints that the ads promoted the range of drinks as healthy, when in fact they contain high levels of sugar. Coca-Cola's defense was that the products are clearly labeled, and that 7.5 grams of sugar in 100 milliliters is not a "high sugar" content. However, the ASA upheld the complaints because the sugar contained in one Glaceau Vitaminwater represents 26% of an adult's recommended daily sugar allowance.

The posters were created in house at Coca-Cola Great Britain.

Glaceau Vitaminwater was launched in the U.K. last summer, and is not Coca-Cola's first bottled water to cause controversy in the country. Dasani had to be withdrawn immediately following a $11 million launch campaign in 2004, when it was revealed that Dasani was tap water, and that Coca-Cola's purification process left the water with twice the legal limit of cancer-causing bromate.

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