Hey kids, get your cocaine

Cocaine is not simply an energy drink with an 'edgy' name, whatever its creators may claim

The dairy on the corner sells Cocaine. I know this because the shop frontage is wallpapered in bright blue signs advertising the energy drink. It is the most distinctive thing about the dairy, which otherwise has disappointed me with stale bread and a miserly supply of Sunday newspapers.

When we first moved to the neighbourhood we made a household decision to boycott this dairy because of the whole Cocaine thing—they were cashing in on a questionable product (the stuff is packed with three and a half times the caffeine of Red Bull) because of its associations with illicit drug use and, frankly, this is not a part of town where anyone needs encouragement to experiment with dangerous substances. Yes, we're soft liberal white guilt do-gooders who mount pointless protests. So be it.

We were therefore pleased when we saw a promo this week for TV3's programme Target, which promised to heap shame on the energy drink market for targeting kids and producing ever-stronger products, in this case those little shot bottles of energy drink that are described as 'dietary supplements'. Health experts spoke of the potentially dangerous levels of caffeine and child actors went into dairies to see if they could buy the little shot bottles, recommended for people aged 16 and over.

Interesting, but there was no specific discussion of Cocaine, which created a kerfuffle a year ago when it arrived in the country. But we're a comparatively 'live-and-let-live' nation. The reaction to the drink was much stronger in the United States, where Cocaine originates, when it was launched in 2006. Particularly noteworthy and widely reported was the drink's 'throat-numbing' quality, created to mimic its namesake.

CNN and Fox predictably got lathered up about it and, annoyingly, by discussing the drink ad nauseum, gave the company behind it, Las Vegas-based Redux, the kind of publicity they must surely have been banking on when they named the drink Cocaine.

While full of justifications and quick to point out that the drink was not marketed to children but to people aged 16 to 25, Redux director Jamey Kirby was clearly hoping to associate his drink with the, ahem, 'positive' characteristics of a Class A drug.

"Cocaine is synonymous with energy," he told CNN. "We think it is the perfect name for an energy drink." He told ABC that Cocaine was "a fun name. As soon as people look at the can, they smile."

Well, not everyone. In New Zealand the Advertising Standards Authority received seven complaints about the drink and ruled in May this year that while the name Cocaine was acceptable, the way it was advertised, by trading off the drug culture, was not. More interesting to my mind was the lame defence offered by Deon Swiggs of Wize Marketing, the Christchurch company behind Cocaine's appearance on New Zealand shelves.

He told 3 News: "What we're trying to achieve by saying, 'be smart' do the drink' is actually show that we're being responsible and showing the New Zealand public- don't do the drug, be smart and do the drink." Huh? Are we seriously supposed to believe that your product is some sort of crusading alternative to a drug that wrecks lives? That it could in any way act as a preventative measure? That drug abuse prevention is important to the creators of Cocaine?


None of this changes the state of affairs at my corner dairy. They still boldly proclaim their association with Cocaine across the road from a primary school where the 'clever' name-play may not be well understood.

No, I'm not of a mind to ban a product because of its name or creepy marketing campaign. I guess I'm just disappointed at how low some people will slump in their money-making efforts. Our household's boycott of the dairy continues and we take some satisfaction in our ability to vote with our wallets. That is what free-market people always tell us to do in these cases.

And yet I remain irritated by Cocaine and its sleazy pushers. I was not at all surprised to learn that Redux's other product is an energy-slash-sports drink called Brawndo. The slogan? 'It's better than porn!'