The oldest trick in the book

Related tags Soft drinks Alcoholic beverage Soft drink Coca-cola The portman group

Energy 69 claims to 'ignite libidos', but how does it get away with it? Adam Withrington investigates.Using sex to sell your product is the oldest...

Energy 69 claims to 'ignite libidos', but how does it get away with it? Adam Withrington investigates.

Using sex to sell your product is the oldest marketing trick in the book. However, with the government now on a mission to make the nation drink more sensibly, drinks companies have had to take a more responsible stance towards advertising.

The advertising code enforced by industry watchdog The Portman Group and the efforts of trade groups such as the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) show how serious the drinks industry has become about this issue.

One of the drinks trade's core messages is that it will no longer support advertising which connects the drinking of a product with "increased sexual performance" - something many drinks adverts have been guilty of. Soft drinks advertising has never been mentioned in this debate.

However, The Publican has become aware of a new energy drink that is about to enter the UK on-trade after performing wonders in the US, and the way it is marketed could cause problems for the trade.

It is a non-carbonated, herbal drink called Energy 69. According to William Alexander, managing director of Brands International, which is about to distribute the drink to the on-trade, it is a quality product with a great taste and is perfect as a mixer with drinks like vodka.

"The reaction I have had from the trade is that it is a great product," he says. "Many people feel I am sitting on a goldmine."

However, the advertising that we have seen from the US proclaims Energy 69 as a wonder drink that will "ignite your libido, increase energy levels, enhance concentration, improve reaction time and arouse metabolism in both men and women".

The adverts are filled with scantily-clad women who, we are told, are the "gorgeous Energy 69 girls, our ambassadors of sexual goodwill".

If this product was alcoholic, The Portman Group would be swarming to it like bees to pollen. The fact that it is a soft drink means it escapes any such trade regulation.

A spokesman for the British Soft Drinks Association, said while there is no such regulation for soft drinks, it is a responsible industry.

"Our members are responsible advertisers," he says. "Any newcomers who enter the trade and attract attention to themselves have to substantiate any claims they make."

David Poley, director of policy and good practice at The Portman Group, agrees. "There are advertising laws in place that should stop companies making outrageous and unsubstantianted claims for their products," he says.

But there is a bigger problem here - a large degree of soft drinks sales in pubs are sold as mixers. Surely they are part of the same game and should have to play by the same rules?

If a soft drink, which mixes particularly well with vodka, is strongly suggested to have a positive effect on your sexual performance, it is just the same as if the vodka was linked to similar claims.

William says he understands that some people might be offended by the advertising but he is willing to put up with this.

"It will offend some people, but not everyone," he comments. "We are aware of potential problems. There is a website called - its review of Energy 69 said that it was a great product, but that the marketing might upset some people."

This misses the point. Causing offence is not the issue any more - image is.

When the alcohol industry is doing so much to tighten up its advertising, marketing like this could ruin everything. The closer you look at the situation the more something needs to be done.

Another soft drink in the market is Private Energy, which is a ginseng-infused energy drink. Investigation showed that it is owned by a company called the Private Media Group ( with headquarters "somewhere in London". As well as the energy drink it has adult internet sites, satellite channels, adult videos and DVDs and a porn magazine. Surprise, surprise, it markets the drink using its own porn stars.

Alcoholic drinks companies have realised that they cannot advertise in a risqué manner that might anger the government. Senior figures in the drinks trade have said that if we do not get our house in order there may be heavy-handed government action.

So how can it be fair for non-alcoholic drinks in pubs to escape? Granted it is alcohol abuse that is causing the problems in our town centres, but these soft drinks are targeted at the on-trade as mixers with alcoholic drinks. Vodka and Red Bull now slips off the tongue as easily as "two pints of Stella please".

William says that Energy 69 is a quality product. If this is so, why is the focus not on its superior taste and difference to its market competitors, rather than the fact it will do you favours when the ladies are around?

'Viagra pop'?

If you look closely at the ads for Energy 69 it says one of its ingredients is "horny goat weed". This herb was an ingredient of Roxxoff, a PPS known as "Viagra pop" that very publicly fell foul of The Portman Group's code of practice this time last year.

Common sense dictates that soft drinks must stand up to the same scrutiny that its alcoholic partners do, otherwise the image of pubs will never fully change. What is the point of cleaning up one area of the on-trade drinks business only for another to be running riot?

Related topics Marketing

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