MillerCoors faces a lawsuit over Sparks

WASHINGTON: The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors September 8 citing its marketing practices.

WASHINGTON: The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors September 8 citing its marketing practices.

The group aims to remove the caffeinated alcoholic beverage Sparks from the market due to alleged health and safety risks it poses to young consumers. It argues the brand's PR and marketing tactics, aided by the firm Street Attack, contribute to irresponsible behavior and attracts underage drinkers.

In particular, the complaint says cases of Sparks were given to house parties and private gatherings, which lack the same licensing safeguards as public venues.

“The way this brand is marketed could be seen as attractive to underage drinkers,” said George Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol-policies project. “The company has done very little to distinguish between underage and legal drinking age.”

Julian Green, MillerCoors' senior media relations manager, said Sparks has passed all federal regulations and was promoted responsibly to a target audience of 21- to 27-year-olds.

Green said MillerCoors' Sparks brand sought to “encounter these consumers in a manner that flows with their activities and interests.”

In the past, Sparks has sponsored art, music, and lifestyle events.

In February, CSPI sent a notice of intent to sue to MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, which also carried caffeinated alcoholic drinks. In June, Anheuser announced it would reformulate Tilt and Bud Extra to remove the caffeine, after an investigation by 11 state attorney general offices.

“Since we acquired [Sparks] in 2006, [MillerCoors] has had a double-digit growth rate, due to discovery marketing model, which does not rely on typical commercial efforts,” Green said. “We intentionally do not market on television or through general market media, because there's a credibility factor we have to leave intact with our target.”

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