Cocaine: Now It's a Fizzy Drink

Images of sex, drugs, and death sell energy drinks.

Posted May 07, 2010

I had never tasted an energy drink in my life before I was handed a sample bottle of Amp at a public gathering in San Francisco last month. Tasting a bit metallic, it was composed mainly of orange juice and caffeine, prompting my husband to ask why, if one desired the vitamins provided by juice and the energy provided by caffeine, one would imbibe them together, as the taste of both would then be inevitably compromised. Why not drink juice, he wondered, and then drink a Frappucino?

This led me to research and write an article about energy drinks, which represent a $5 billion industry. Some of these drinks contain as much caffeine, in a single can or bottle, as do two standard cups of coffee. Over 65 percent of regular energy-drink consumers are young men, which largely answers my husband's question. Energy drinks are aggressively marketed to young men using words and images that market research has proven appeal to young men. Their packaging and advertising campaigns evoke speed, violence, risky sports, sex, drugs, and death: skulls, skateboards, race cars, bikini babes, double entendres. Each has its own theme, but these drinks also contain vitamins and amino acids and the implication is that they healthily boost athletic and sexual prowess, while occasionally letting the drinker flirt with death -- in a fun way. The hundreds of drinks on the market bear unsubtle names such as these: Bawls, Blood, Ammo, B52, Enorm, Atomic Blast, Banzai, Beaver Buzz, Death Adder, Damzl Fuel, Pussy, Erektus, Sin, Greed, NeuroGasm, Adrenalyn, Xtazy, WhoopAss. One energy drink is actually called Cocaine. The name appears in powdery white on bright red and blue cans.

"Do you want to see more of our spokesmodel Michelle?" asks Cocaine's Web site. "Do you think Michelle is awesome?"

The drink called Pimp Juice is endorsed by hip-hop star Nelly, who co-owns the company that makes it. Another hip-hop star, Lil Jon, is affiliated with the energy drink called Crunk!!!

"Hell naw -- the game done changed," reads the brand's website. "Lil Jon got his own drink? With the crunkest of rappers makin' a come up like this, hip hop artists will soon be wantin' to have their own ice cream cones and toothpaste flavors. We takin' ova!"

Because the FDA classifies nearly all energy drinks as food (and not as drugs), no age restrictions apply. Children can buy them -- and children have been raised to relish cold sweet soda drinks.

Frappuccino is fluffy and feminine. Hot coffee doesn't come in cans called "bullets," as energy drinks do. Hot coffee can't be chugged.

"Behind every slam dunk, fast break and awesome assist, you'll find the insanely healthy energy drink that keeps the fans in the game all day long," reads the Web site for Verve! drinks. "In an office, on the job, on a mountain, riding waves, doin' flips, doin' tricks, jammin' all night, crammin' all night, whatever your life calls for, Rip It is there to fuel you," reads the Rip It site.

At least purveyors of beer and crack don't pretend to be selling something else.