Professor blasts ethics of marketing "dangerous" Cocaine energy drink

GENESEO, N.Y. - The high-caffeine energy drink Cocaine has been rapidly spreading around the country since its introduction to the U.S. market a few months ago. The trend concerns School of Business assistant professor Ian Alam. Alam is researching the ethical issues involved in the marketing of the drink by conducting focus group interviews with consumers and by talking to managers at other energy drink companies.

The drink contains 3.5 times more caffeine than leading energy drink Red Bull, which Alam said is being marketed to college students even though it's dangerous. Alam's primary concern is what he sees as the deceptive marketing strategy being pushed by the company, Redux Beverages of Las Vegas, Nev.

The Cocaine energy drink carries the tagline "the legal alternative," and comes in a red can with a white logo meant to resemble the drug. "These drinks are largely targeted to college students, who use the drinks to stay awake at night in order to study or just have fun," said Alam.

Alam stated that the popularity of energy drinks has risen very quickly. "This whole train started with Mountain Dew. They came up with a very successful high-caffeine drink, and many companies have since improved on their model. Red Bull is probably the best and most well-known example of energy drinks on the market today," he said.

Alam noted the company's advertising practices with disgust. "The people behind Cocaine have a very clever marketing scheme. Everything needs to be unique in marketing. You have to break through the clutter of all the other marketing campaigns to be successful. This drink has certainly done that."

According to ABC News, the drink's inventor James Kirby says the name came to him during a brainstorming session at 1 a.m. "It's an energy drink, and it's a fun name," says Kirby. "As soon as people look at the can, they smile."

According to a Geneseo Office of Communications and Publications press release, "An 8.4-fluid ounce can of the drink contains 280 milligrams of caffeine, compared to 80 milligrams of caffeine in an 8.3-fluid ounce can of Red Bull." Alam is concerned college students and other consumers will forget about the health risks involved with consuming energy drinks when they are met with the clever marketing scheme of Cocaine. Such health risks include heart irregularities, nausea, vomiting and electrolyte disturbances. In addition, Alam says, energy drinks are particularly dangerous when consumed with alcohol.

"The two main issues I am looking at in terms of ethics are the brand name and the ingredients," said Alam. "I want to find out what safeguards companies should take when marketing these types of products to college students." Alam also said that the adverse effects of the drink could include addiction, and may also encourage actual drug use.

Some Geneseo students have spoken out against the drink. Senior Sonia Vieira said that she's never heard of the drink, but she thinks it sounds ridiculous. "I hate the idea of the name, and I think it's wrong to target an audience who already doesn't get enough sleep with an energy drink named after a drug," she said. "I know I wouldn't put anything into my body called cocaine, even if it would help me stay awake longer," she added.

Sophomore Jenn Anson said, "I think that they chose a name that will attract a lot of attention, especially from college and high school kids, so from a business point of view it's a good marketing strategy." About the health issues posed by the high levels of caffeine, Anson also said, "I'm not too sure of how great it is for your body. I would probably want to research it before trying it." Senior Brian McCormick stated that he felt the drink wouldn't be on the market long. "It's too potent," he said. "Someone will get killed (from mixing it with alcohol)."

According to the company's Web site,, Cocaine is available in New York, California, New Jersey, Texas and Connecticut, but has yet to arrive in the Rochester area. Alam said that this is because the company is doing test marketing, which means they are testing the outcome of the product, its price, its demand and other factors before nationwide launch.

The company also has a tour bus that makes stops throughout the country. Convenience store franchise 7-Eleven has decided not to stock it, and after its rollout in New York City in September, several small stores banned it. Australia also has banned the drink.