Criticized by health advocates and scrutinized by regulators, fruity and boozy Four Loko has probably gotten more news coverage than any similar alcohol brand its size. Now the brand is turning the tables on its critics with a tongue-in-cheek campaign that seeks to parody the kind of breathless news coverage it often gets.
The campaign -- called "Everything's Gone Four Loko" -- is brand owner Phusion Project's first national effort and also begins a new collaboration with Funny or Die, which co-produced a series of web videos along with Four Loko agency of record Atlas Mind and talent agency CAA.
Dubbed "The Big Bust," the first video features faux TV station "News 4," whose frenzied reporters stake out "the motherlode, an underground Four Loko party." As it turns out, the party is more chill than thrill, with Four Loko drinkers casually mingling at a barbecue. But that doesn't faze the reporters, who act as if they've just busted up some kind of illicit, illegal fest. The videos will begin going up today on the brand's newly revamped website, drinkfour.com, as well as on funnyordie.com. Out-of -home ads began in September in 16 major markets.
In real life, Four Loko has often found itself the center of reports of highly publicized incidents in which college students have been hospitalized after drinking the fruity beverages, which contain alcohol contents of up to 12% ABV for a 23.5 oz. supersize can. The reports have made the drink a favored target of state attorneys general and health advocates, whose publicity push led federal regulators late last year to force it and other fruity malt beverage makers to remove caffeine from their drinks, which critics called "alco-speed." Then last week, the Federal Trade Commission forced Four Loko to slap a new warning label on its supersize version while adding resealable caps to discourage binge drinking.
"The key to this campaign is that it all reflects the way our company and product was shaped," company co-founder Chris Hunter told Ad Age . "Let's face the fact: Our company and our products were shaped by media coverage, and we are a pretty fun-loving group that 's able to laugh at ourselves. And that 's kind of the nature of this campaign," he added. The media has "shaped our company and our products in the public's eye."
Critics aren't likely to find anything funny about it. Many are calling for more action against Four Loko, including New York state senator Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx/Weschester, chairman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. The FTC's recent action, he said in a statement last week, does "not address our main concern: keeping Four Loko and other super sweetened, high-alcohol beverages out of the hand of minors. This topic remains part of an active investigation by the committee."
Phusion spokesman Chris Short said the company is sometimes unfairly targeted: "You might have two cans of Four Loko at a party that contains tons of other things and somehow [Four Loko] makes it into the headlines."
But to be sure, the company might be helped more than hurt by the free media attention. Sales are still on a roll, up 34% to $157 million in the year Sept. 4, according to SymphonyIRI, which tracks store sales not including Walmart.