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Forbidden-Fruit Flavored: The City's Efforts to Prevent Kids From Guzzling Monster Drinks May do the Opposite 

Wednesday, May 8 2013

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has discovered a way to get a jolt from an energy drink without ever taking a sip.

On the cusp of a scheduled May 2 sit-down with the Monster Beverage Corporation, city officials were surprised to learn last week Herrera was instead being sued by the company for being singled out among purveyors of energy drinks.

At issue were Herrera's efforts to compel Monster to ratchet down the drink's caffeine content and cease "aggressively market[ing] to youth in a way that encourages over-consumption of the product." The city on Monday returned the favor, suing Monster over its marketing practices. Regardless of the outcome, marketing and branding experts predict the city's intention to keep young people from guzzling energy drinks, may transform Monster into rebellion in a can.

"The oldest, most proven strategy of marketing to young people is 'Stick it to the man,'" says branding strategist Rob Frankel. Monster may now be perceived as The Drink So Juiced They Tried to Make It Illegal, or The One The Man Tried to Take Away. "'Rebel against your parents. Go your own way. Don't do what people are telling you to do.' How can you lose with a campaign like that?" asks Frankel. "San Francisco comes across like an old mother hen."

U.C. San Diego marketing professor On Amir wonders if the legal battle will imbue the product with "the forbidden fruit effect." If you tell kids not to go upstairs, he notes, now they'll really want to go upstairs. And a legal tussle over Monster being inappropriate for young people won't exactly drive young people away from the product. "If you say this is too strong for kids, you affirm that this is very strong," says Amir. "Suppose I'm a high school kid who wants a boost. What will I go for? The drink that's allowed for me or the drink that isn't because it's too strong?"

The precedent for juvenile backlash exists. When Herrera earlier took steps to quash boozy energy drinks like Four Loko, a group of frat boys started a "Fuck You, Dennis Herrera" Facebook page, according to City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey.

It remains legal for young people to wander into a cafe and order a cup of coffee. And, if they do so, they'll not only receive a beverage imparting the aura of maturity a glorified can of soda can't – they'll also be handed a drink that doesn't resemble medicinally flavored stale piss.

Furthermore, they'll ingest plenty of caffeine. While a 16-ounce can of Monster contains about 160 milligrams of the stuff, a one-ounce shot of espresso at Peet's has around 70 milligrams and a 20-ounce cup of joe holds around 300. A 20-ounce "double depth charge" would then have some 410 milligrams of caffeine.

Dorsey notes that cafes don't market sweet drinks to kids. The battle over the frappucino may come another day.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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