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The Thirst Mutilator
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
Marketing experts will tell you that creating an annoying ad that everybody hates is not necessarily a waste of money. As long as the ad is memorable, as long as it has a chance to "stick" with consumers, even in a negative way, odds are pretty high that it will be as effective as any great, universally-liked commercial. It's like the oft-repeated aphorism about lawyers and publicity, the one that states there's no such thing as "bad publicity" for a lawyer — any public mention of an attorney's name is good, even the dubious notices, for it gets the name out there, makes it recognizable to any potential clients. "Memorability" is the important concept here, with "memorably bad" being just as valuable as "memorably good."
Of course, I'm one of those psychopaths who gets so enraged by bad commercials that I'll maintain a lifelong grudge towards any company whose ads offend my delicate sensibilities. I make it a point to commit to memory the really awful commercials, the ones that get under my skin (usually for some arcane philosophical reason), and I keep a mental list of the companies that promote these hideous advertisements.
For instance: it was a long shot that I'd ever be the sort of guy to buy a Hummer in the first place, but their horrible 2006 commercial — the one that featured a nervous "new" kid being accepted at school because his parents own a big fat expensive Hummer — sent me into an Old Testament fury that almost made me incapable of speech. It was ridiculous to get so worked up over a damned TV ad, but there I was, insanely, apoplectically furious at a car manufacturer. Not that I'm exactly walking around with 50 grand, mind you, but I'll never buy a Hummer, and I'll openly ridicule anyone I see driving one. I hate everything about Hummer. If corporations truly are people, as Mitt Romney so memorably said, than I hate Hummer, Inc. like it was. . . well, Mitt Romney. I know how absurd this pointless fury is, and I wish I could be one of those affable sorts who recognize that life is too short for this kind of rancor. But I'm not and I can't; it's simply my lot in life to get all het up about stupid shit that doesn't mean anything to anybody. C'est la vie and all that.
So anyway: I hate Hummer, and I hate Living Essentials, the Michigan-based company that produces 5-Hour Energy shots, the ultra-popular energy supplement that has become ubiquitous in convenience stores and gas stations since its debut in 2004. (5-Hour Energy has a mammoth manufacturing plant in Wabash, Indiana, which produces 9 million bottles a week, and the company recently announced an expansion to the facility.)
There hasn't been one specific commercial that's set me over the edge with 5-Hour Energy, it's been more of a cumulative effect of their entire marketing campaign. One of the major selling points for the product is that it's so much easier to use than coffee, and so there have been many spots that have over-emphasized the incredible hassles of coffee-making: the grinding of the beans, the measuring and pouring of the water, the hitting of the "brew" button, the waiting for the warmer to kick in. The commercials make the whole process seem impossibly complicated, like changing the oil in an aircraft carrier or rebuilding a solar battery. I've been making coffee for about 30 years now, and I swear it takes about 4 minutes, tops, every time. And most of the time I'm barely awake, so it's not like I've mastered some esoteric skill.
But God knows, people are way too busy with their important lives today to fritter away those 4 minutes, so knocking back a 5-Hour Energy is the only way to get the day started properly. Some may argue that drinking coffee is a sublime pleasure, a joyous respite, especially on cold, raw November mornings, but the 5-Hour crew is having none of that. Far better to drink some tasteless gel out of a plastic cartridge than enjoy a perfectly caramel-colored cup of Joe. These people taking 5-Hour Energy shots must be brilliant guys who are on a dead sprint through life to accomplish as many great things as possible before their light is turned off forever. They have to burn both ends at once, all the time, because their lives are so full of earth-shaking innovation and achievement. Right? It can't be that the usual 5-Hour drinker is some vampiric XBoxer who needs a blast of some supplement just to sit upright behind his computer screen. That can't be it, can it?
To be honest, it's not just the commercials that get to me about this product. I find the whole explosion in popularity of energy drinks in the past decade — especially among teenagers — to be incredibly unhealthy. The products themselves aren't required to announce their caffeine amounts and it seems that there's not a substantive amount of research about how healthy the products might be for chronic users. It was shocking to read of the 14 year old girl who died recently after ingesting two 24oz cans of Monster energy drink in a 24 hour period. There is a lawsuit pending, and of course the producers of Monster energy drink are citing a pre-existing condition that the girl had as a major contributing factor. Still, the headline must have given a number of religious energy drinkers cause for concern.
But I guess an even more pressing question might be, why are teenagers drinking energy drinks? Teenagers are some of the biggest customers for these energy products. For older, beaten-down guys, for guys working long shifts and pulling overtime, I guess it makes some sense. But kids? In some ways, I'm sure it was inevitable, for whenever something gets stuck in the zeitgeist and becomes a pop culture fad, it's usually kids that pick up on it first and latch on. But it still seems unnatural to me. Kids don't need energy supplements, for God's sake, kids are energy, in its purest form.
The whole Energy drink phenomenon seems like such a typically American solution to a problem: we have record levels of obesity and diabetes and we have a chronically out-of-shape populace, but instead of eating well and losing weight and exercising, we take a shot. Bam, like magic. And if we're still tired, well, we take another. And if one shot is good, and two is better, well, three has got to be better still, right? And what could possibly go wrong after that?