Monthly Archives: August 2018

How I helped start the child obesity problem …

The current furore around child obesity in the UK being linked to high energy drinks has given me a twitch in my right eye. Is it because I was involved in the launch of the first high energy drink? Surely not – I was only doing my job.

I well remember the TV ads. from my childhood that showed a concerned Mum bringing a glass of Lucozade to her sick child, who was sat up in bed but looking quite poorly. Lucozade was usually bought in chemists in those days. It was covered in a crinkly orange wrapper and had a kind of magical aura about it. The power of branding had already been at work for many years, and the strapline “Lucozade Aids Recovery” was accepted as fact by mothers up and down the land.

But in the early ‘eighties all that was to change. And I was part of the team (albeit a cog in the machine at ad. agency Leo Burnett) which planned and implemented the advertising activity that completely altered perceptions of Lucozade. The drink was no longer to be limited to “in sickness” usage. Henceforth it would be sold as an “in health” product, and, by implication at first, something that could provide extra energy to anyone who needed it. Meetings with the client were characterised by extremely hard talking and seemingly impossible demands. Some very talented, very expensive brains worked on the brand. Thirty-five years later, unexpected outcomes of that pioneering campaign include, arguably, the growth of a massive high energy drinks sector, but also social changes which are currently making headlines and prompting legislation to ban the sale of high energy drinks to children.

As Senior Media Planner on – amongst others – the Beecham Foods account, it was my job to plan how much money would be needed for the relaunch of Lucozade, and when and in which media the money should be spent.

The first steps creatively were somewhat tentative. Problem was, there were restrictions on product claims – to suggest too overtly that Lucozade was a medicinal source of high energy could be deemed unsupportable, even though in reality the formula of the drink was basically sugar and water, with a little colouring. The subject of the first repositioning ads. wasn’t the sick child but the mother. The ad. showed a cartoon housewife starting her day’s work with a high level of energy, represented by an animated orange graph line in the background which tracked her progress through the day. After a while, fatigue set in – and her energy level started to fall, as illustrated by the decline in the graph line. Rather than suggest that Lucozade could provide the required energy boost, the ad. advised the lady to “sit down”; while she was sitting, suggested the ad., she could try a glass of refreshing Lucozade. In other words, the first ad. sold the idea of sitting down. Initially, only this line of persuasion received the approval of the advertising regulators.

Planning started some eighteen months before the first TV ads. appeared, which were deemed a success. But some bright spark had noticed that Lucozade sales-per-head-of population were some six times greater in the Republic of Ireland than in the UK. Research uncovered the rather amusing reason for this: Irish Guinness drinkers were using Lucozade as a “morning after” cure for their hangovers following a binge drinking session the night before.

A pint of Guinness at a bar in Dublin Airport

At first my role included correlating detailed statistical analysis of marketing research and media viewing patterns, in relation to the much broader target audience, to identify the optimum timings (month, slots, etc.) for the TV advertising activity. It quickly became clear to me, however, that the brand had been missing a very valuable trick – heavy (in the marketing sense of “frequent” – not overweight) TV viewers were prime prospects for this newly-positioned product. So I was able to demonstrate that this should be a campaign which didn’t really need much finesse in the area of media planning. It was all about getting as much airtime on the box as possible.

One memorable event in this process was a one-day trip I made to the brand’s ad. agency in Dublin. Ostensibly it was all about learning from them, given that they had had vast experience in targeting the Guinness drinkers who were hooked on Lucozade. I arrived at the agency after a very early flight from Heathrow expecting to see a presentation of all the numbers and an insight into the secrets of their success. Yes, that would be coming, they assured me; but first they wanted to extend some true Irish hospitality. So we repaired to a hostelry just across the way from the agency. Naturally enough, we all imbibed a glass of Guinness … or two … or three … Eventually, afternoon turned into evening and I found myself in a downtown bar, with a vague memory of having been at some pub up in the mountains, where a number of sheep had wandered through the premises. To this day I have no idea how I managed to find my way back to the airport, but manage it I did – and a comprehensive package of marketing and media material arrived on my desk by first class post the following day, to my great relief. Irish hospitality – what can I say?!

Lucozade began to be sold in 6 ounce PET bottles and the targeting broadened still more as the focus turned to its use as an energy booster for people taking part in sports. Lucozade became heavily involved in sponsorship and the brand became a textbook repositioning case study. Its success was (ultimately) to spawn a whole raft of “me too” brands with a variety of formulae and brand images. Having said that, Lucozade can still be found in prime positions on supermarket shelves.

Recently the brand was bought by Japanese company Suntory. One of their first moves was to cut the sugar level in Lucozade by 50%; to what extent this decision was prompted by an imminent threat of legislation can only be surmised.

So the brand continues to evolve. But it’s perhaps rather ironic that Lucozade began as a quasi-medicinal product that mothers could give to their kids to (apparently) aid recovery from illness but ended up causing a marketing revolution which has had dire effects on the health of many of the nation’s youngsters.



Image credit: by Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium (A pint of Guinness at a bar in Dublin airport) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Interesting recent article on the Advertising Standards Authority‘s website: Banning ads is no silver bullet for tackling childhood obesity



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