In 1986, it was a Mad Dog 20/20… in 1997, a Natural light (or, that one time, when Colt 45 was on the menu)… in 2002, Mike’s hard Lemonade… and, as of last week, Four Loko.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with dozens of patrons stopping in to convenience stores across the southeast. And I asked them what they thought.
Love it (“I am going to get effed-UP!”) or hate it (“That stuff is nasty!”), everyone had an immediate opinion.
What strikes me is that during all these years of “it drink” evolution, nothing much about the target demographic has changed all that much: I am poor and I want to be drunk.
For some, that is a depressing reality of a life without hope, the coping with a disease without help. For others, it’s a young drinker’s need to budget dollars per percent alcohol, i.e., college.
What has changed is the perfect storm of elements that then converged to form a combination so effective that it forced the inevitable – a ban.
With Four Loko, several key barriers to consumption were removed, maliciously or not, from our target demo’s path:
1. The Image barrier. There is no perceived lower class stigma of consuming a large can of this alcohol—it’s a bright, fun, youthful looking can. The name itself suggests party not poverty. Schlitz this is not.
3. The Potency barrier. Party time is now and later. Four Loko’s more juiced than a Red Bull and vodka. There’s no question that you will be well on your way after just one of these.
4. The Difficulty barrier. No drinks to mix, no spirits to master. The whole stimulant-packed booze enchilada is a pop-top away.
5. The Price barrier. At $2.50-3.00 per can—which breaks down to roughly 75 cents per serving of alcohol—it’s ideal for the cash-strapped.
6. The “Placement” barrier. There, in the nether regions of the convenience store cold case—half way between beer and energy drinks—Four Loko lives in a perceptually gray area: not beer and sort of an energy drink with more. It’s only a few facings away from Heineken—surely one is meant to ingest the whole can just as quickly.
It’s not going to win any design awards or product innovation recognition, but Four Loko gets A’s for understanding the desire of its target for cheap, easy to swallow thrills and delivering.
However, people have died. Someone probably should have checked in with the FDA. But given that particular agency’s typical response time (it’s been developing guidelines for SPF since 1978!), it’s no surprise the higher-ups at Four Loko didn’t bother.