Coca-Cola's vitamin drink ad 'misleading'

A vitamin-enriched water made by Coca-Cola was the subject of a "misleading" advertising campaign which claimed that its nutritional benefits were the same as those gained from eating vegetables.

Posters and a leaflet for Vitaminwater claimed that the drink had "more muscles than brussels" and would cause those who imbibed it to "keep perky when you're feeling murky". An advert for the product said: "Popeye had it easy. A can of spinach and he bulked up... the nutrients in this bottle won't enable you to walk on mud, or become a strapping sailor man, but they will help you beat your granny in an arm wrestle."

Complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the implications that the drinks were the same as vegetables, and had health benefits such as raised energy levels and resistance to illness. Coca-Cola insisted "brussels" referred to the nickname for the film star Jean-Claude Van Damme – "the Muscles from Brussels" – not sprouts, and that staying "perky" referred to mood rather than fighting illness.

But the ASA said: "We noted that the word 'brussels' was not capitalised and considered it was not clear from the ad, or its context, that the claim intended to refer to a well-known actor." It upheld the objections, and ruled that the adverts must not be used again.

Another advert made a direct link between avoiding illness and the drink, despite there being no evidence that the product would boost the immune system, strength or mood. The ASA found that the drinks contained nearly a quarter of the recommended daily amount of sugar in 500ml, but the publicity made it likely that consumers would think the products were "healthy".