Disgusted, offended and appalled. That’s how I felt browsing the website for Insane Energy Drinks.
I wouldn’t feel such strong opposition had they called their product ‘Insane Energy Drinks’ and left it at that. As in, this drink will give you an insane amount of energy. Used in that context, it’s fine. When a huge storm hit our city back in March, ‘The weather out there is insane.’ It’s everyday common usage of the word, not meant to offend.
What I do have a problem with however, is the advertising campaign they are employing to market their product.
Upon visiting the website, it becomes apparent they are not only using ‘insane’ as to mean epic, awesome, a large amount (of energy) etc. No. They use ‘insane’ to describe people who are mentally ill. An ‘insane’ person is depicted on the cans of the energy drinks, someone screaming in horror and agnony. I’d be screaming too if my face was plastered on the cans as part of such an insulting and offensive product design.
If you go to their home page, you will see the message welcoming you to their site. It reads, ‘ Welcome to the new website for Insane Energy! Come in, sit down. Are you cold? Would you like a… jacket? Don’t mind those wrist straps.’ They are of course, talking about straight jackets, a feature of those Hollywood films depicting violent, raving lunatics incarcerated in an asylum, needing restraint.
Their website is based on the design of a file, one would assume this is an imitation of the manila folders used to house the paperwork and information of individual mental health patients. I must say, the sight does seem rather familiar to me, I have become somewhat accustomed to seeing my name written on a cream manila folder. What this folder contains, I don’t think I want to know… On the top left hand corner of the website, you will see a small note entitled ‘File Notes,’ used as a navigation tool to click your way around the site. On the bottom left hand corner, you will see a list of ‘new patients,’ people who have registered to become members of ther site.
It only gets worse from there.
What has offended me the most is their Patient History page. The four ‘patients’ are Juice, Original, Energy Shot and Sugar Free. Their patient histories? ‘Exhibits unusual behaviour around dogs, occasionally screams for no reason’ and ‘Found several times juiced in the corner, babbling uncontrollably’ are just a couple of the descriptions of the ‘patients’ displayed on their website.
You are then directed to take their ridiculous Insanity Test, ‘Do you belong in a straight jacket? Take the Insanity test to find out.’ Upon completion you are given a ‘Diagnosis’ of how insane you are. My diagnosis? ‘Absolutely Bonkers.’ This doesn’t offend me as much as it is complete a waste of time. Though, I do object to their usage of the phrase ‘schizo brain.’ You wouldn’t call a person diagnosed with breast cancer a ‘canco breast.’ So why would you call a person diagnosed with schizophrenia a ‘schizo brain?’
It is not acceptable to treat the subject of mental illness in such a cavalier way. To use the physical illness analogy again, you wouldn’t be calling an energy drink ‘AIDS Energy Drink’ for example, and you wouldn’t be offering a ‘HIV Positive test’ as some sort of a joke. There would be an outcry, and rightly so. Sufferers and people affected by this life threatening illnes would be most dismayed. Well I’m a mental health consumer and I’m upset by this ad campaign. Mental illness is not a joke. It causes so much suffering, for patients and carers alike. Mental illness can be fatal, people commit suicide or illnesses such as anorexia can take a person’s life.
Companies like these just further perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental illness. They encourage the use of ‘insane’ to label people with mental ill health. They insinuate that people who are mentally ill belong in asylums and straight jackets. They illustrate people with mental illness as individuals who are violent, disturbed and act out. Yes, there are some people with mental illness who may be violent. But then again, there are people without a mental illness who are equally as dangerous. There are also many people with mental health issues who are completely harmless to others and would never intentionally physically hurt someone if they could help it.
The target audience for their products seem to be adolesecents, high school or possibly Uni students. It is at this high school age, that adolescents are the most impressible, and attitudes towards mental illnesses are at it’s worst. This ad campaign basically encourages the continued mocking and taunting of mental illness, and further embeds the negative stereotype of a crazy, insane person, in the young person’s mind. As if it wasn’t hard enough dealing with a mental illness at a high school age, this makes it all the more difficult for students to be open about their struggles, to seek help when they need it, for the fear of being laughed at and judged by their fellow classmates.
To prove my point, I asked my high school aged brother, thirteen years old, what comes to mind when someone is described as ‘insane.’ He suggests it is someone who is ‘crazy.’ I then asked what it means to him when someone is mentally ill. He says that he thinks of someone with a mental illness as a ‘retard.’ I asked him what this term meant. To him, it means someone who walks weirdly, can’t talk properly and looks grotty. It is the exact picture this website paints of a mentally ill person, someone who’s insane. But hey, guess what little brother, your sister has a mental illness and she’s none of what you described. I think some educating needs to be done…
I’d like to think our treatment of the mentally ill has improved over the years, as society has become more educated. It’s when I see ads like this that I’m disheartened, and not so sure. Luckilly, SANE Australia is advocating for changes to be made. They have contacted this company with the intention of asking them to withdraw this promotion. The latest on this, updated on May 31, is that the manufacturer has contacted SANE Australia advising that they had no intention to offend. I am quite dubious to this claim, how could they not have forseen this could be offensive, especially to those affected by mental illness? However, the company has said they aim to consult SANE Australia regarding changes in the advertising of the product. Here’s hoping they hold true to their word and changes ARE made.