Chicago-based Phusion Projects LLC has reached an agreement with 20 attorneys general nationwide to drastically modify the marketing of its alcopop drink Four Loko in a decision announced Tuesday.
“This is an important step toward ending the irresponsible marketing of alcohol to young people,” San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement reflecting the tenor of comments from a sampling of the 19 state AGs also included in the settlement.
“You remember Four Loko, right? Back in 2010, it seemed like the drink — a ‘blackout in a can,’ the phrase went — was everywhere in the news, popping up in reports about the dangers of mixing alcohol and caffeine, Four Loko parties, hospitalized college students, other hospitalized college students and still other hospitalized college students,” writes and links Mark Berman in the Washington Post. “Several states and universities banned drinks like Four Loko, while federal agencies cracked down on the practice of selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks.”
“Because most Four Loko consumers are college-age or younger, the settlement bars — in just about every imaginable way — advertising that includes anyone younger than age 25, or anyone who looks younger than 25,” reports an editorial in this morning’s [Spokane] Spokesman-Review that ledes with “one Central Washington University student nearly died, and eight more were hospitalized in 2010 after consuming Four Loko.”
The editorial continues: “Even Santa Claus is off limits, which suggests the maturity of some targeted buyers. Phusion cannot use college mascots in its promotional materials, or any reference to fraternities or sororities.”
“Phusion must also ‘police’ its social media accounts for any posts that depict or describe the mixing of its flavored malt beverages with caffeine,” points out Redeye’s Mick Swasko.
“Phusion in 2010 voluntarily removed caffeine from its Four Loko product, which has 12% alcohol by volume,” Lorene Yue reports in Crain’s Chicago Business.
“While our company did not violate any laws and we disagree with the allegations of the State Attorneys General, we consider this agreement a practical way to move forward…,” Phusion president Jim Sloan e-mailed the Washington Post and other newspapers. He also noted that that Four Loko is sold without caffeine in 48 states and that the company maintains “that the combination of alcohol and caffeine can be consumed safely and responsibly.”
Phusion describes itself on its Facebook page as “thriving multi-brand company with 90 employees” that was founded in 2005 with a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan in 2005 by Chris Hunter, Jaisen Freeman and Jeff Wright. Its other brands include Moskato Life and Earthquake.
“Phusion Projects is the beverage industry’s most entrepreneurial, off-premise focused company, offering innovative products that our customers desire while delivering flawless execution, speed to market and world-class margins to our business partners,” reads its mission statement.
“Four Loko isn't going anywhere,” it posted Tuesday on social media. “We will continue to bring our loyal fans the products they love. Thanks for your support.”
Phusion’s website contains a “Fact VS Fiction” FAQ addressing variations on such statements as “Four Loko’s bright packing is aimed at underage consumers.” In response, a “Responsible Drinking” section of the site begins, “Alcohol misuse, underage drinking and drunk driving are serious, industry-wide issues that we would all like to see solved.”
Reflecting on his youth as a Midwesterner “weaned on swill like Old Milwaukee” before moving on to the likes of Mike’s Hard Lemonade “the one I might be most embarrassed by”), Jason Diamond is particularly harsh about Four Loko on Flavorwire.
“To be totally honest, Four Loko was garbage, and we’re probably better off just going back to drinking Olde English and plastic bottles of Popov if we’re all so desperate to get drunk and yell ‘No rules!’ really loudly,” he writes.
Drew Millard compiles videos of “The Best Songs About Four Loko Of All Time” on Noisey. His bio states that “last drank an Original Formula Four Loko in, like, 2012”; in the story he recalls his first — “the summer before my senior year of college” — the way some might remember less virulent rites of adolescent passage
“In its original form, Four Loko’s legend preceded it. Blackouts. Excess vomit. One and you were done. Two and you were dead. Despite (or perhaps because) of this, Four Loko was the best and inspired a legion of followers, fans, and hard-drinking enthusiasts who waxed poetic about its myriad virtues. You didn’t just ‘drink’ Four Loko, you were on it.”
With street cred like that, who needs mainstream marketing anyway?