7-Eleven Pulls Cocaine; Boosts Drink's Buzz

As 7-Eleven was pulling Cocaine Energy Drink off its shelves Wednesday--apparently the first large retail chain to do so--the drink's MySpace profile logged 3,059 friends, and is likely to gain a lot more.

The strikingly named brand has spent a pittance on marketing since it launched in early September--relying on negative publicity to create a buzz, and now enjoying the fruits of viral marketing.

The convenience store told its franchises to get the drink off the shelves after getting complaints from parents of teens, a big part of the drink's target audience. "Our merchandising team believes the product's name promotes an image which we didn't want to be associated with," said a spokeswoman for 7-Eleven, based in Dallas.

More good news for Redux Beverages of Las Vegas, which markets it as "The legal alternative" and promotes an in-your-face attitude on its Web site. The drink has none of the illegal substance, but more caffeine than a Starbucks Grande coffee and 350 percent more than Red Bull, No. 1 in the $8 billion energy drink category.

Hannah Kirby, the company's managing partner, said 7-Eleven stores didn't account for many sales of the drink, which is available in more than a half-dozen states, mostly in mom-and-pop convenience and liquor stores. "We knew it would be controversial," said Kirby after the product launched. "That was the marketing plan, because young adults and teens love controversy."

As of late September, the energy drink category had seen 203 new products since the beginning of the year; the total was 342 in 2005. In 2000, 119 new products entered the category.

John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, sees the heady success of Cocaine differently: "There has been more ink used in writing about it than there are people who drink it."