The nonprofit group Truth in Advertising (TINA) wants federal agencies to investigate what it alleges are “unfair and deceptive” marketing tactics targeted to children by energy drinks and supplements marketer Ghost.
In a letter emailed on Monday to the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, TINA alleged that Ghost “targets kids in a number of ways while failing to adequately disclose that its products are only intended for healthy adults and may be harmful to children.”
The University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health joined TINA in the request.
Also cited in the complaint are Ghost distributor Anheuser-Busch InBev—whose ZX Ventures incubator unit invested in Ghost in 2020—and candy brands Mondelez International and Impact Confections.
The confectioners have licensing deals with Ghost that enables the latter to use the names and images associated with Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish and Bubblicious (Mondelez) and Warheads (Impact).
According to TINA, on Dec. 2 it sent a 22-page warning letter to Ghost—which does business as Ghost Lifestyle—and copied Mondelez and Impact.
On Monday, TINA told two FTC and four FDA officials that Ghost “has failed to take the necessary steps to rectify its packaging and marketing issues since receiving our letter.”
Among TINA’s allegations are that Ghost sponsors a high school football team and provides products to its players while not adhering to social media influencer guidelines.
“Ghost uses a fleet of influencers to promote its products, including its energy drinks, on various social media platforms but fails to ensure that these influencers clearly and conspicuously disclose that the promotional posts are ads, in violation of FTC law,” TINA claimed.
The organization attributed to unidentified “experts” the claim that 200 milligrams of caffeine in a can of Ghost is more than double the daily recommended limit for youths ages 12-17.
“Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that caffeinated energy drinks ‘have no place in the diet of children and adolescents,’” TINA stated.
Ghost does acknowledge “in illegible fine print inconspicuously placed on its energy drink cans and supplement containers” that its products are inappropriate for minors, according to TINA.
“Consult a licensed, qualified healthcare professional before consuming this product,” reads the print on one Ghost can.
Marketing Daily reached out to Ghost for a comment.
“Ghost has an unyielding responsible marketing code of conduct policy that strictly prohibits marketing to kids under 18 years old and sets stringent guidelines to ensure adherence," notes Daniel Lourenco, CEO and co-founder. "GHOST takes this matter very seriously and we are continuously and thoroughly evaluating our packaging, content, and marketing materials to reflect and uphold our code of conduct."
TINA’s action was first reported by Just Drinks.