What Next? “Diet Crack?” “Meth Lite?”

Here’s an ethical issue that doesn’t make it into a lot of textbooks: what names are ethically permissible for your product? A beverage company has decided to name its “energy drink” after a dangerous drug. Here’s the story: ‘Cocaine’ drink claims to be real thing

Its maker claims the title is “a bit of fun” but critics slammed the technique as a cynical ploy which could tempt young people into using drugs.
The drink’s inventor, Jamie Kirby, said: “It’s an energy drink, and it’s a fun name. As soon as people look at the can, they smile.”
He claims Cocaine is “350 percent stronger than Red Bull” but that people do not experience the “sugar crash” or jitters that he says some of the other energy drinks can produce.

Here, again, is one of those stories that makes my vision go all grey.
Are young people really likely to use an energy drink as a “gateway drug”? That’s hard to believe. (“Say, it’s so great in a can, maybe I should try freebasing!”)
On the other hand, is promoting a product that could even conceivably lead anyone to attribute a remotely positive connotation to the term “cocaine” an admirable business strategy? Don’t think so. Is it 100% cool to market a drink named after a drug that has ruined millions of lives? Probably not. In fact, it probably means you’re the kind of person who thinks that “hey, as long as it’s legal, and as long as no one is being directly harmed (probably), then it’s a great way to make a living.”

As a frame of reference, are there other products that have dubious names? I suppose Iceland’s Black Death schnapps might be a contender. Though (given that the real Black Death — i.e., the Black Plague — is a few hundred years past), I think the Icelanders are just showing a sense of humour regarding what is, by most accounts I’ve read, a horrible-tasting beverage. See also Bong Water (a carbonated citrus drink made by Real Things Distributing), and Pimp Juice. (Sort of a pattern, there, with the energy drinks…) Then there was also Ice-T’s (in)famous rap tune, “Cop Killer” (1992), though I guess the issue there wasn’t so much the name of the song as its content. There was also Porn Star clothing.

Of course, Cocaine (the energy drink) is aimed at a young audience…generally, that’s who energy drinks are aimed at (which is odd, when you think about how much energy young folks have compared to older folks. Anyway…) So, the fact that Cocaine (the energy drink) is aimed at a younger audience is part of the problem. When you market to kids, you bear extra responsibilities. And notice that almost all of the products with controversial names (at least, the ones I can think of) are aimed at youth. (Picture it: “Whoah! If I wear a t-shirt that says Cocaine on it, that’ll really piss off mom & dad!”)

Where does that leave us? I don’t know. I suppose as long as there are rebellious teenagers, there will be someone who wants to make money off them by giving their product a naughty name. Business students ought to be encouraged to ask themselves this: do you really want to look back on your career, and say that your biggest achievement was introducing Crack Whore(TM) lip gloss to the world?

Relevant Links:
Cocaine energy drink’s website
Cocaine & Crack info from the National Institute on Drug Abuse

8 comments so far

  1. […] (I’ve blogged before about energy drinks: What Next? “Diet Crack?” “Meth Lite?”) […]

  2. Marc on

    You guys have some bug up your ass and need to stop taking shit so seriously. It’s a name.

    If we marketed a drug that could cure cancer and named it Cocaine, do you think cancer patients would avoid taking it? Hint: no

    • Chris MacDonald on


      Please let me know when you’ve got a drug that can cure cancer. I promise to cut you some slack when you do.


  3. dan on

    I agree, its really not that serious. I was in high school when this drink first came out in 06′ and we bought the drink because we thought it was cool and that was it, It was something to laugh about, personally no one i knew actually like the drink so whats the point. but once we grew up and got over energy drinks, we drank booze. wee didnt start doing coke because of a stupid name on a drink.

    • Chris MacDonald on


      Fair enough, but I never implied there would be a simply and direct causal relationship. No one thinks that.


  4. Dwayne on

    Yep, ethics may be in question for sure on this type of thing. Dont know the team at “Cocaine” but I wonder if its done in jest…

    I do like the fact that there are still freedoms that allow this. I dont think its in good taste but we also have to accept some of freedoms side efffects…

    I can see some kids joking with their mom : Hey mom, I tried cocaine today.

  5. […] said I’m left feeling very uncomfortable about the drink and the business ethics that it […]

  6. Jon on

    i think that the name controversy was very much party of the plan.
    notice how no one talks about how much caffeine this drink has (more than any other out there) just about the name
    what a clever way for the company to draw attention away from the real issue

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