How strange that news coverage of a lawsuit involving a high-energy drink substitute would itself be a low-energy substitute for actual journalism.
Dozens of newspapers and blogs across the country ran a story recently that Moondoggies, the Pacific Beach sports bar, had been caught a second time passing off a substitute energy drink to customers who had ordered Red Bull. The stories all contained the same embarrassing (for Moondoggies) details: that the bar was cited for contempt of court for violating an injunction against serving customers a Red Bull knock-off instead of the Red Bull they'd ordered; that the bar failed to tell customers of the switcheroo; and that fans of El Toro Rojo should ask to see the empty drink can to make sure they're not getting a facsimile thereof.
But, oddly, nearly all the stories contained not only the same details, but also the exact same words: They were identical to one another. Perhaps that was because the facts were simply beyond dispute. Or maybe it's because they were all lifted, word for word, from the same press release by the same PR firm, Publicis Consultants of Los Angeles, which handles press for Red Bull.
Publicis issued the press release July 31, and no less than 24 media outlets passed it along verbatim to their readers without comment.
Not everyone engaged in this copy-and-paste form of news reporting. The venerable Wall Street Journal's legal blogger, Dan Slater, posted his own blog in his own words on the subject, citing an article from the website Earth Times as his source. That Earth Times article, however, was simply Publicis' press release, word for word. The San Diego Reader also ran its own version, which, while strikingly similar to the press release, at least showed an attempt to reach Moondoggies for comment.
All of this is great for Red Bull, which can now honestly say it wrote the book on Moondoggies' bad behavior. But it's not so great for Moondoggies, which, if you can believe it, actually believes it has its own side to the story. Brett Miller, CEO of Moondoggies' parent company, Eat Drink & Sleep, didn't respond to our requests for comment. But he told the Los Angeles Times in 2004 that the bar substituted the drink Roaring Lion for Red Bull because Red Bull refuses to sell its product in volume. Tired of having to dispose of thousands of little 8.3-ounce cans every week, he said, the bar decided to go with Roaring Lion, which sells a virtually identical product in bulk (and at a significantly lower price, he added).
Not that any of this mattered to Red Bull, which in 2004 sued Moondoggies for allegedly passing off a competing brand as one of its products. Miller, up against a pissed-off beverage giant that posted $1 billion in sales in 2000, chose to settle for $50,000. The most recent contempt order cost Moondoggies another 25 grand. For those of you keeping track, that's Red Bull 2, Moondoggies 0. Jägerbombs, anyone?