August 21st, 2007

State Attorneys General Attack Marketing of Alcoholic Energy Drinks

By Jeremy Mullman
Advertising Age

The attorneys general of 29 states are going after Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Co. and purveyors of alcoholic energy drinks and flavored malt beverages that the law-enforcement officers contend are marketed in a way that appeals to teens.

In a letter dated Aug. 20, the 29 AGs asked the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to “expand its efforts to prevent misleading health-related statements from being made in connection with” alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants.

Aggressive campaigns

The letter noted that nonalcoholic energy drinks have grown rapidly in popularity, especially with teens, and it argued that the alcoholic energy drinks are essentially exploiting that phenomenon. “Alcoholic beverage manufacturers have taken advantage of the youth appeal by engaging in aggressive marketing campaigns,” the letter reads. “These campaigns claim that such beverages increase a person’s stamina or energy level. However, they do not mention the potentially severe, adverse consequences of mixing caffeine with alcohol.”

The letter went on to specifically cite three different marketers of alcoholic energy drinks it said were making misleading claims, and urged the bureau to “review the entire category of alcoholic energy drinks in a systematic way to discover and act upon misleading claims.”

The three cited marketers were Miller Brewing Co.’s Sparks and Sparks Plus, Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Extra and Charge Beverages’ Liquid Charge and Liquid Core.

The letter did not include any examples of these marketers advertising in youth-targeted media or websites, but rather focused on claims that the AGs said would appeal to youth.

Sparks, the AGs argued, employs an “advertising scheme” focused on “providing energy,” including distinctive cans designed to resemble batteries.

Power-plant imagery

Bud Extra, the letter said, used slogans such as “You can sleep when you’re 30” and “Who’s up for staying out all night?” And Charge’s website used nuclear-power-plant imagery.

The targeted companies took issue with the AGs’ claims.

“Sparks was created solely for the consumption of legal-drinking-age consumers,” Miller said in a statement. “There is no nonalcoholic version of Sparks. We work closely with the Tax and Trade Bureau to ensure that all of our products meet federal regulatory requirements. We responsibly market our products to legal-drinking-age consumers consistent with our own high standards, industry marketing codes and applicable laws and regulations.”

An A-B spokeswoman noted that Bud Extra contains less caffeine than a 12 oz. cup of Starbucks coffee, and said that alcoholic energy drinks are nothing new, because consumers have consumed cocktails such as rum and Coke for years. “We are surprised at the Attorney General’s focus on comparatively lower-alcohol products when two weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study indicating ... that the alcohol beverages minors most consume are hard-liquor products, which may have as much as 10 times the alcohol by volume as malt beverages.”

A-B’s second clash this year

This is A-B’s second clash with the AGs this year. The group in February targeted the No. 1 brewer’s pioneering online TV network, Bud.TV, over what it called insufficient age-verification measures. The site did require users to enter personal information that could be verified by a database of state-issued identification cards, which is actually well beyond what most brewers use online. But the AGs said that, as a network operator, A-B had more responsibility to keep youth away from its marketing than it did as a mere advertiser.

Six months later, Bud.TV’s age verification remains unchanged, and is frequently cited as a reason the site has struggled to attract a large audience. 


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