Attorneys General Investigating Anheuser-Busch And Miller Over Energy Drink Marketing

Attorneys general in several states have subpoenaed documents from A-B and Miller as part of an investigation in to the marketing of caffeinated alcoholic energy drinks, says the AP.

A-B issued a statement:

“Anheuser-Busch is, of course, cooperating with the subpoenas,” the company said. “But it is important to realize that the AGs are investigating products whose formulation and labeling already have been approved by the federal authorities, as well as by those states that require state liquor authority approval.”

Critics of the drinks say they are marketed to teenagers who already are familiar with and consume energy drinks, but Miller denied this accusation in a statement:

“We responsibly market our products to legal drinking age consumers consistent with industry marketing codes and applicable laws and regulations,” the Milwaukee-based company, a unit of SABMiller PLC, said.

A-B continued:

“If the Attorneys General truly believe that, despite the state and federal regulatory approvals, alcohol and caffeine should not be mixed, then they should use their powers to persuade these authorities to regulate or ban all such beverages, not just the lower-alcohol, prepackaged ones,” the statement said.

We didn’t get the impression that the AGs thought people shouldn’t mix caffeine and alcohol, just that maybe the drinks shouldn’t be marketed to kids (if indeed they actually are.)

The first time someone handed us a “Sparks” or whatever, we seriously thought it was soda from ALDI or something.

States probe marketing of energy drinks [BusinessWeek]
(Photo:Mister Brentus)

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  1. sharki3232 says:

    I’ve never even seen these things for sale.

  2. flamincheney says:

    I think the bones of this is that the products are packaged and shelved as if they were Red Bulls or Monster. They do look confusing, but that isn’t enough to say they are marketed to kids.

    On an aside though who actually expects an energy drink with alcohol to work? It is a bad combination of depressant and stimulant, not to mention that once the short caffeine rush is over I wold think you’d just crash harder.

  3. forgottenpassword says:

    I have never trusted energy drinks. I am afraid that some bizarre concoction (ginko, ginsing, guava…etc.etc..) in one would somehow kill me. I aint a young indestructable kid anymore.

    Years ago when I went to england… those things were EVERYWHERE. I couldnt tell what was a normal soda & what was an energy drink. I wanted to try different products (that werent available in the US), but it was too confusing. Now the energy drinks in the US are as bad as the ones that were in england.

    Think I will just stick to my moutain dew. Mountain dew is bad enough.

  4. azntg says:

    You know just as well as I do that they’re trying desperately to market to people in my demographics.

    I mean seriously, which other age bracket are stereotypically dumb enough to try those sh*t and have money to burn foolishly?

  5. apotheosis says:

    What good is being stumbling drunk if you aren’t wide awake to enjoy it?

  6. flamincheney says:

    “In August, attorneys general from 28 states, Guam and the District of Columbia sent a letter to federal authorities warning that brewers were aggressively marketing alcoholic energy drinks to young people.”

    Seems to me that if 28 states have taken action that there would appear to be something to this. Not to mention, what self-respecting adult comes to a party rocking Sparks???

  7. shan6 says:

    The hangovers these drinks provide are unlike any other. You are in so much pain, but you can’t stop cleaning!

  8. dreamsneverend says:

    @shan6: so many sundays end up just like that…

  9. kimsama says:

    Ugh, no wonder they are trying to market this crap to kids. I sure hope people 25+ have better taste in alcohol than that horse piss.

    Seriously, I can’t drink this stuff anymore without paying for it dearly the next day and I am still in my mid-20s. Why not just settle down with a bottle of shiraz instead? At least red wine’s healthy, eh? And it doesn’t make you feel (or your mouth taste) like the inside of a toilet ^_^

  10. full.tang.halo says:

    I’d like for a change the people that are complaining that “stuff is being marked to kids” have to take a polygraph and answer questions like, how old where you when you 1st had alcohol, oh, 15, who bought it for you, ah a “friend”, hypocrites. Somehow when people get older they conveniently forget their shit stinks too and they more often than not have done the same shit they are rallying against.

  11. cobaltthorium says:

    @full.tang.halo: Seriously though. Christ – I drank before I was 19 and I’ll never tell anyone that they can’t. FFS, it’s not like at 21, everyone magically adopts respoonsibility.

  12. apotheosis says:

    @full.tang.halo:
    So the only people who can legitimately complain about alcohol being marketed to minors are people who didn’t drink while they were minors?

    If you did something dumb as a kid, you’re forbidden from warning others against it as an adult?

    I don’t get it.

  13. Spifferiferfied says:

    I used to drink Sparks in college. I didn’t like beer and when I didn’t want to have to mix my whiskey and cokes all night I’d run and pick up some Sparks. I liked the awake and drunk at the end of the night feeling instead of the tired and drunk feeling. Can’t do it now though, gives me acid reflux something terrible.

    I don’t think they’re marketed to minors. I’ve never known anyone below 21 who even knew what they were.

  14. stre says:

    seeing as they are sold in the alcohol sections of grocery stores or in liquor stores themselves, i don’t understand how this could be marketing toward children

  15. Steel_Pelican says:

    If underage kids are buying ANY kind of alcohol, you should go after the crooks who are actually selling it to them.

    However, it’s not as politically heroic to go after the liquor stores who sell to underage kids as it is to take on Big Alcohol.

  16. apotheosis says:

    @Steel_Pelican:

    However, it’s not as politically heroic to go after the liquor stores who sell to underage kids as it is to take on Big Alcohol.

    I agree that the stores selling it need to be held accountable for the actual sales.

    However, those stores aren’t responsible for the breweries’ marketing campaigns, so any questions about those should rightfully be directed at the companies.

  17. Maybe they should go after mike’s hard lemonade? I don’t know a single person above 20 who buys that, unless its for someone under 20.

  18. cobaltthorium says:

    @apotheosis: I believe his point was that the drinking age laws are pretty stupid. I agree – you can die for your country but you can’t have a beer? People seem to cease to care after they turn 30.

  19. apotheosis says:

    @cobaltthorium:

    I believe his point was that the drinking age laws are pretty stupid. I agree – you can die for your country but you can’t have a beer?

    I definitely agree that’s stupid. If your government considers you responsible enough to hand you a loaded M-16, it’s silly for the same government to suggest you’re not potentially responsible enough to drink a beer.

    On the other hand, the government doesn’t hand just every teenager a loaded M-16, either. There’s a vetting process to determine whether they’re capable of handling the responsibility, and training to ensure they know how to use it. The government has no such training and vetting process in place to determine whether your 17-year-old can handle their jagermeister.

  20. cmdr.sass says:

    @flamincheney: Yeah the “something” is that they’ve run out of tobacco settlement money and need a new big business to tap for cash.

  21. bobblack555 says:

    Alcoholic Energy Drinks taste like ass anyway.

    For that matter, Energy Drinks in general taste like ass.

    Remember Budweisers failed “B-E” Energy Beer?

  22. bnorton says:

    I’m 30 and I have a sparks now and then. It’s great for kicking of the night and it’s the best for early morning tailgaiting. You drink 1 and 1 only anymore then that and you’re in trouble. The black top has too much caffeine in it for me so I stick with the orange top.

    I have never seen any kind of advertisement for sparks so I don’t know how they are advertising to kids. It’s always clearly in the liquor section.

  23. christoj879 says:

    More stupid crap to clog up the legal system. I personally don’t think a product like this is all that great, but I’m sure everybody knows that regardless of whether or not this product existed, if you were to check out the houses within a 1 mile radius of any middle or high school on a Friday/Saturday night, you’re guaranteed to find drinking parties. The kind I wasn’t invited to.

  24. cobaltthorium says:

    @apotheosis: Good point – obviously just because you’re capable of going to War doesn’t mean that they’ll let you. By the same logic of training, I would support a system where the drinking age is lowered with an increase in education concerning the subject. If parents (in particular) are open with their teenagers about alcohol, teach them to know their limits, and introduce the teenagers to alcohol in a safe home environment, I believe that it would act as a much stronger deterant than slapping people with zero-tolerance fines.

    Another point I’d like to make, if I will, is that while you go through special training to see that you are fit and able to fight for your country, you receive no special training to vote. 20 year-olds can help choose the direction their government takes by voting and are considered responsible enough to choose their representatives, but aren’t wise enough or “ready” for exposure to alcohol?

  25. cobaltthorium says:

    @apotheosis: True – but you go through no such training to be able to vote. Perhaps instead of imposing zero-tolerance fines and laws and better approach might be education and introducing the teenagers to alcohol in a safe home environment.

    Damn The Consumerist for disappearing comments …

  26. cobaltthorium says:

    Damn them twice for reappearing comments!!!

  27. Energy Drinks are just plain bad for you.
    Also, probably not the best idea to combine stimulants and depressants this way.
    I do know of a bar which stopped serving Red Bull after a guy (who did not know he had a heart condition), died of a heart attack after a night of drinking Red Bull and Vodka.

  28. FLConsumer says:

    @full.tang.halo: I’d MUCH rather see kids drinking alcohol than the energy drinks. The effects of alcohol on the human body are well-known; the effects of the latter are unknown.

    I still don’t see what the issue is with “underage” drinking. Underage drunkenness, yes, but I have a problem with people of any age drinking so much that they get drunk off their ass. Alcohol was readily available when I was a child and I’ve never quite seen the allure of it. I drink socially, but I’ve never had the urge to “go out and get drunk” like I see many 12-25 year olds do.

    @kimsama: Wholeheartedly agree — Wine is far more interesting than the overpriced trendy crap the bars serve.

  29. TMurphy says:

    @full.tang.halo:
    Parents are known to pester their kids the most when they’re on the right path to make the same mistakes. Call those parents hipocrites, but the mistakes they made are the lessons they learned best. I would think the best law and policy makers for this country would be good parents. If someone can’t do a good job raising a kid, I don’t trust them to raise a country. Being a hipocrite is fine if you previously did what you are saying not to do. That means you were in their shoes, and learned the lesson you are talking about (not to imply these AG’s have or haven’t learned from their mistakes).

  30. apotheosis says:

    @cobaltthorium:

    while you go through special training to see that you are fit and able to fight for your country, you receive no special training to vote. 20 year-olds can help choose the direction their government takes by voting and are considered responsible enough to choose their representatives, but aren’t wise enough or “ready” for exposure to alcohol?

    Hey now let’s be fair, government schools train people how to vote every single day.

    We are SO frickin’ doomed.

  31. HawkWolf says:

    I don’t know about marketing, but I bought a can of Sparks the first time I saw it. As a college student at the time, I felt that it was important to live out my stereotype as a drunken idiot.

    Well, funny stuff aside, I actually bought one and drank it. I promptly threw up about half an hour later as I got buzzed and caffeinated at the same time. No alcoholic energy drinks for me.

  32. MrMold says:

    The kids at school, with the No Child Left Untested Act, are deep into energy drinks. The need to enter higher education and the stiff competition force them to burn their tiny little candles at both ends.

  33. KJones says:

    You want an energy drink that makes a good mixer and is caffeine free?

    Stick with grapefruit juice. It tastes like shit by itself, just like “energy drinks”, but is actually healthy for you. And it mixes well.

  34. Andy S. says:

    @cobaltthorium: I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Seriously. I am all for denying certain abilities to those who haven’t demonstrated the ability to perform them competently. Licensing people to vote and drink would be fantastic in a perfect world.

    Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and voting licensing would almost certainly be abused to turn the vote in the favor of one candidate or another, and even if it’s not, there will certainly be some losing candidate that will assert that such has happened, and that’s why s/he lost.

    Not only that, but we already have a licensing system in place to prevent incompetent people from driving, and we all know how well that works. Easily half the people on the road shouldn’t be allowed to drive, because they are incapable of doing it safely.

    Oh, well, back to the stupid Real World, where anybody can get piss-drunk on Arbor Mist.

  35. yourbffjill says:

    I drank Sparks in college (cuz I’m awesome) and I swear, there was only one time that I bought it at a grocery store where the clerk didn’t scan it, and then act really surprised when the register told them to check id. Does not look like an alcoholic drink at all.

  36. privatejoker75 says:

    anyone confusing the two products probably deserves to die a slow, painful death anyway

  37. kingedwin says:

    How else am I supposed to drive around with an open container and not be arrested?

  38. brent_w says:

    I’ve never even seen an ad for this stuff, let alone it being “marketed to kids”.

    Unless the back of the gas station in the corner with the beer is “marketing to kids” I’m going to have to say this sounds like a waste of time/money.

  39. cobaltthorium says:

    @Andy S.: Although WHY anyone would want to get piss drunk off Arbor Mist … Christ, I’d rather stay sober!

  40. reznicek111 says:

    Well, dad gum it, that puts the kibosh on my idea to market Irish Coffee in a can.

  41. I think there’s a clear difference between Sparks (the Miller Product) and B2theE (The AB Product). Of course, my MBA is from the same program that Augustus Busch IV and his brother graduated from, but still. B^e is clearly budweiser, and if Bud is marketed properly, so is B^e. Sparks is a different deal.

    That said, It’s a lot easier for government to crack down on the two brewers who make the stuff than the hundred thousand retailers who are selling the stuff to <21’s. THAT’s why the AG is bugging AB and SAB (the owners of Miller).

  42. stevegoz says:

    Am I the only one here who still drinks a stiff Rum & Jolt to start the day?

  43. deadlizard says:

    I know they try hard to market that water with yellow coloring -Michelob Ultra- to the healthy crowd. People who participate in sporting events and are health concious.

  44. Kat@Work says:

    I think these must be marketed to minors – they are absolutely disgusting.  Only a kid who wants to get drunk would drink them.

  45. pinkfreud says:

    16 year old girls new bartles and james

  46. ZekeDMS says:

    Sparks is exclusively in the liquor section, far from the normal energy drinks, anywhere I’ve seen it. It’s usually in the middle of the beer, wine coolers at least.

    Also, it’s horrible.

  47. captainleah says:

    i’ve never bought sparks, but i used work at a pizza place around the time it was introduced and one of my drivers came in after a delivery and said he bought one and didn’t realize it was beer until he started to drink it in the car.

    we laughed about the mix up, but the gas station clerk sold it to him without asking for id. (he was about 25) and he was wearing his driver’s uniform! LOL

    i don’t know how close to the non-alcoholic drinks it was displayed, it was probably mostly stupidity on the part of the driver.

    i’m not hip to what the kids are drinking these days i would definitely assume it was an energy drink by only looking at it.

  48. BettyTheCrackHo says:

    I just can’t understand the hate on Sparks and other alcoholic energy drinks. Has all the underage drinking shifted away from Bud Light and hard lemonade? Of course not. I hardly EVER see anyone drink Sparks, B^e or any of the other energy/alcohol drinks. Heck I get plenty of grief for drinking Sparks (re-read the anti-Sparks messages above for examples) so you can kind of get an idea that alco-energy drinks aren’t some major trend. So it looks like the A’sG got a bug up there bun just to make some headlines but don’t address REAL crime. What about corporate fraud, abusive banking/lending/credit tactics, sexual assault, murders, etc. Going after Sparks seems just as stupid, if not more stupid, than going after Marijuana.

    They can pry my Sparks out of…

  49. BettyTheCrackHo says:

    @Kat@Work:
    Um, this has got to be the worst attempt at logic I’ve ever heard. Do kids PREFER disgusting drinks for some reason, but hit 21 and start drinking Pinot Noir? It could be a preference for adults ya know.
    I would encourage people to try to make at least intelligent comments before accusing companies of illegal activities.