Targeting Teenagers: Energy Drinks, (Self) Regulation and the Ethics of the 4ps

The Presence of Energy Drinks When taking a look around at the night life of any city of the western culture we may come to a conclusion that pubs and party places are stuffed with under aged children below 20 or even 18. These kids need more energy to survive the rush of the nightlife therefore it is not unusual to see them drinking energy drinks – or even mixing it with alcoholic beverages. Do the producers and marketers of such energy drinks like Red Bull or Monster think of the unhealthy effects of these drinks on adolescents?

A perception can be made that such beverages are highly effecting and endangering the health of their consumers – teenagers and adults – however, their producers are targeting at the most vulnerable and willing to spend audience – the teenagers of the western cosmopolitan cities.

The long term goal of producers and marketers of energy drinks is not less but to own as high percentage of the market share as possible, using any kinds of marketing tools, without taking into consideration ethics and the health risks caused by energy drinks.

Health Effects

It is a well-known fact that energy drinks such as Red Bull or Monster contain ingredients that could be harmful not only for teens but for adults as well in the long run. According to pharmaceutical studies of Clauson et al. (2008) ginseng, taurine, guarana, bitter orange, and caffeine – key ingredients of energy drinks – may interact with each other in a way that can cause symptoms varying from headache, insomnia, high blood-pressure, stroke, or even heart attack.

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Various sources from the Internet show evidence that teenagers‘ health was harmed after consuming energy drinks.

In Colorado Springs, several high school students last year became ill after drinking Spike Shooter, a high caffeine drink, prompting the principal to ban the beverages. In March, four middle school students in Broward County, Florida, went to the emergency room with heart palpitations and sweating after drinking the energy beverage Redline. (Parker-Pope, 2008) ‘Three years ago, Ross Cooney, 18, from Ireland, died after he shared four cans of Red Bull and played in a basketball match. ‘ (Nordqvist, 2004)

In the mean time it must be mentioned that not only the ingredients can be harmful and risky for the teenage consumers but the lack of responsibility during drinking energy drinks plays an important role as well. While adults are – or should be – able to keep their limits, teenagers act in the most unexpected ways. ‘But the biggest worry is how some teens use the drinks. Some report downing several cans in a row to get a buzz, and a new study found a surprising number of poison­center calls from young people getting sick from too much caffeine. ‘ (Johnson, 2006)

Other sources underline that another factor effecting adolescents is strongly in connection with their behaviour. Energy drinks may negatively affect those teenagers, who are more aggressive by nature, ‘High consumption of energy drinks is associated with “toxic jock” behavior, a constellation of risky and aggressive behaviors including unprotected sex, substance abuse and violence. ‘ (Parker-Pope, 2008) Based on the above risk factors and several other additional ones numerous countries and states have already banned – or attempted to ban energy drinks, however, they were not able to sustain the state of rejection for a longer time span.

For instance France, Denmark and Norway have banned Red Bull for a certain amount of time – the ban was upheld by the European Court mainly because the caffeine levels were considered to be safe and negative effects of other ingredients were not supported. The European Union enforced Red Bull and other energy drink providers to warn their consumers of the high caffeine content (Nordqvist, 2004). In the United States there have been several attempts as well to ban energy drinks – to protect adolescents, but the law does not make any restrictions possible.

Energy drinks, which are classified as dietary supplements, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means they don’t have to follow the same strict limits that the FDA places on potentially harmful ingredients such as caffeine (a primary component of energy drinks) that soda makers must follow. (Park, 2011) Based on the above studies a conclusion can be made that even though energy drinks contain ingredients that can be harmful if consumed un-responsibly, the level of ingredients are still considered to be safe.

Teenagers must be taught that consumption of such beverages should be kept below a certain limit or should be avoided. Attracting Teenagers Why is it so attractive for teenagers to consume Red Bull, Hell, Burn, Monster, or any other energy drinks? Most probably because these drinks are considered to be the drink of popular, young, successful people – mostly sportsmen. Goodman’s video about The Merchants of cool (2001) describes this situation clearly – being cool is essential to teenagers to be in the spotlight.

Marketing cool became very popular these days, due to the well known fact that teenagers of metropolitan cities tend to use – eat, drink, wear – whatever they believe is cool and in the mean time their parents are willing to pay for these items. In the sudden a product becomes mass or becomes un-cool according to these teenagers, they are not willing to purchase them anymore. The teenagers who are willing to pay for the products represent a strong and rich audience. Therefore marketers should keep this in front of their eyes when designing new marketing strategies, mostly when talking about brands that tend to target the teenagers.

If we take a look at what the energy drink brands represent, it is visible that they are either committed sponsors of extreme sports, other popular sports, (Ho, 2006) or position themselves in the centre of leisure and parties (Arlidge, 2004). This certainly is cool amongst adolescents. It can be stated that Red Bull, Monster, or other beverages are the representatives of cool. Which cool teenager would not like snow boarding, skate boarding, monster trucks, air shows, Formula-1, cross motors, car racing or any other dangerous extreme sport like skydiving? Helm, 2005) Therefore these producers target teenage buyers exactly they way they should be targeted. Does this seem unfair, or is this an example of perfect targeting? It must me mentioned that these energy drinks give the message to teens never to rest and always do something – to be always on the move. Today a usual American watches television approximately 4 hours 45 minutes per day (Shea et al. 2010, p. 165) hours per day. By the age an average teenager reaches the age of 21 he or she has watched more than 20 000 hours of television already.

Most teenagers use the Internet throughout the day, however, only 28% of them looks for fitness and health tips (Oblinger, 2005). It is also stated that over 155 million children are overweight world wide, similarly in the United States and in the European Union, approximately 35% of adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese. (Shea et al. 2010, p. 166) Red Bull spends annually billions of dollars on not only sponsoring sports, but also building its own sports teams (Ho, 2006).

Varying from numerous different sport categories, Red Bull attracts millions of teenagers towards these sports. For instance skate boarders Ryan Sheckler, Zered Bassett, Joey Brezinski, or Nick Dompierre are well known endorsers of Red Bull. They have millions of fans worldwide and hundreds of teenagers started skate boarding because of them. We can mention thousands of examples where an energy drink brand sponsored sport idol became the hero of teenagers. Because of these idols teenagers later on started doing sports instead of just sitting at home.

Should parents thank Red Bull or Monster for doing this? Red Bull can easily reach its target audience through showing them how popular and trendy it is to drink their beverages. In the mean time they give the message to teenagers never to rest, and to do some sports, therefore they can become the cool and popular actors of their environment. Etical Behaviour After seeing what product Red Bull offers to teenagers, and knowing how these adolescents are reached, it is essential to take into consideration whether marketing tools of energy drink providers are ethical or not.

The American Marketing Association clearly defines what is considered to be ethical from marketing point of view, however, it must be mentioned that acting ethically is always relative, it depends on the values and norms what a certain individual, or what the society tends to understand as ethical. American Marketing Association states that norms are the following: do not harm; foster trust in the marketing system; embrace ethical values; while ethical values are: honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency, citizenship (American Marketing Association, n. d. . Let us take a look at these one by one through the actions of Red Bull. Do not harm: ‘This means consciously avoiding harmful actions or omissions by embodying high ethical standards and adhering to all applicable laws and regulations in the choices we make. ‘ (American Marketing Association, n. d. ) We have seen that even though we cannot state clearly that energy drinks are harmful for teenagers, they could have negative effects if they are consumed un-responsibly. Red Bull strongly covers its decisions of the ingredients of beverages through a legal perspective.

Currently the amount of caffeine and taurine are below the unhealthy limits, therefore Red Bull cannot be questioned from legal point of view. On the other hand if we take a look at a can of Red Bull it is not described clearly how many milligrams of caffeine or taurine could or should be consumed per day, or how many cans of energy drink can an adult drink without risking his or her health. Just like on the package of cigarettes or alcoholic beverages it should be mentioned in a visible, obvious way that drinking more than one can of energy drink per day could have harmful effects on health.

Red Bull does not harm its buyers, however, the consumers should be educated more about the beverage. In return for this action Red Bull could be representing the care towards consumers. Foster trust in the marketing system: This means striving for good faith and fair dealing so as to contribute toward the efficacy of the exchange process as well as avoiding deception in product design, pricing, communication, and delivery of distribution (American Marketing Association, n. d. ). Red Bull communicates towards customers that their drinks will ‘Give you wings‘.

They position themselves in the centre of extreme sports and parties where extra energy is essential. The picture they have built throughout the years is representing values of the company in an obvious, clear, and fair way. When we take a look at the price of a can of Red Bull it also represents that this beverage somehow stands out from other non-alcoholic drinks such as Coke or Sprite (Helm, 2005). Therefore they clearly give the message that this drink is something special and should be consumed only when the human body needs extra energy and wants to be on the top.

Embrace ethical values: ‘This means building relationships and enhancing consumer confidence in the integrity of marketing by affirming these core values: honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship. ‘ (American Marketing Association, n. d. ) Red Bull’s target audience is the male population, from teenagers to 25-30 year old adults (Helm, 2005), however, when looking at teenagers, those who really purchase – or pay for – the drinks are mostly their parents, of which Red Bull is confident, therefore they should give a message to the parents as well about honesty, responsibility, fairness, etc.

Right now – according to previous studies of this paper – parents are the ones who trust the least these energy drinks and are scared of its negative effects on their teen children. Red Bull is honest, since what they state is true. Their beverage contains a high amount of taurine and caffeine that gives more energy and ‘wings‘. On the other hand it is hard to say they are responsible. They do not focus on telling their teen consumers that the drink can be harmful, and in the mean time they drag the adolescents to dangerous extreme sports.

These surely will not win the trust of parents. Red Bull and other energy drink providers should win the trust of parents by either not letting teenagers drink their beverages, or create a certain type of drink that is – even if consumed un-responsibly – cannot have any negative effect on adolescents. All in all Red Bull’s actions of marketing are legally covered and they cannot be mentioned as an unethical company, however, certain restrictions and actions would make them appear in a much more positive scene. Conclusion and Recommendations

We have come to the final conclusion that energy drinks contain ingredients that can be harmful for consumers – teens, adolescents, or adults – however; they are endangering health only if they are consumed irresponsibly. It is truly visible that the target audience of the highly caffeinated drinks are male adolescents (age 18-25), who tend to use more energy, or show the society how popular and cool they are. Sources have underlined that energy drinks are consumed by even younger teenagers, whose drinking habits may become dangerous, since they do not tend to focus on the healthy consumption of energy drinks.

Red Bull and other similar beverage providers should put more focus on teenagers and provide them more details on how the energy drinks should be consumed. Marketers of Red Bull and other energy drinks focus obviously on gaining the highest market share possible, however, they are keeping all the necessary limits to be legally covered. Besides the possible unhealthy effects of the beverages these firm focus on sponsoring sports, which can help the health of teenagers in the long run, and attract them towards sports.

The more they can effect teenagers to start doing some sports, the more helpful they can get for parents – therefore the presence of energy drinks on the market causes controversies. To avoid confrontation with parents in the future energy drink producers should focus more on educating consumers how to drink their beverages, and state clearly on the cans the ingredients of their products. The best possible solution would be to mention on the packaging visibly that teenagers below 18 should not consume energy drinks, or to create a product for younger teens that can be consumed without limits, at any time of the day.

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Targeting Teenagers: Energy Drinks, (Self) Regulation and the Ethics of the 4ps. (2018, Jan 11). Retrieved from

Targeting Teenagers: Energy Drinks, (Self) Regulation and the Ethics of the 4ps
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