Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink Leaves A Foul Taste (Again)

monsterDec. 8, 2009 It’s Tuesday, time for our weekly “Packaging Boyhood” focus, so what better time than the holiday season to sound the ‘red’ siren on the ‘green’ brand that tween and teen boys are sucking up to…Monster energy drink.

With everything from motocross and macho madness to the thumping, screaming, ‘over the top’ rebel yell, Monster ‘packs a vicious punch’ by creating lil’ monsters out of the male middle-school set without a clue (or a care) as to the impact of the jolt and crash ‘kick ass flavor’ to their adolescent bods.

Wow. I feel like I got a testosterone infusion just reading the freakin’ label, “when it’s time to unleash the beast within, grab a Monster and GO BIG!’

Packaging Boyhood authors wrote a whole chapter on ‘What Boys Do’ and rightfully nail this verbiage as positioning violence and risk taking and ‘pushing the limits’ as a culture conduit to ‘manhood.’

Gotta say, it’s been fun counter-marketing the sheer absurdity of the entire energy drink category based on the hyped up, gender specific packaging alone. (not just ‘Monster, Monster Hitman, & Monster Sniper’ but Full Throttle, Red Bull, and other spiky, thuggish, ‘tough guise’ contrasts to the myriad pink think thinspiration cues of energy drinks like RockStar for the girls) It’s so predictably stereotyped that it’s almost amusing, and easy to see into the ‘crystal ball’ of the future and be able to tell kids what to watch for in advance. (video after the jump of what’s got my dander up)

monster armyAwhile back we even played a media literacy game to come up with ‘where will they go next?’

They’ve already used the ‘band of brothers’ military inclusiveness and fraternal bond of loyalty to ‘join the Monster Army’ online and soldier themselves through the ranks of worthiness to ‘rid himself of fear,’ prove his bravery in extreme sports, and ‘declare war on the ordinary.’ ack.

Wanna know what’s ordinary to me?

The fact that profits are once again being put ahead of kids’ physical health, and the mental health messages delivered…

monster girls

The “big bad Monster buzz” the ‘thrill of the kill’ concept, not to  mention the scantily clad objectified ‘Monster Girls’ doing quite a number on boys’ heads on what girls are ‘good for’ in faux femme 3rd wave tackiness a la the Axe ‘Bomchickawawa girls.’

It IS rewarding however, when teens have those ‘aha moments’ of understanding the body logic, nutritional uh-ohs, caffeine’s impact on kids and cardiac cocktails of alcohol mixed into energy drinks, (either intentionally or via consumption due to market confusion)…but it’s a really delicate balance imparting the ‘persuasive tools’ used because KIDS need to have the discovery themselves.

YOU, adult humans, (as advice slinger ‘Hey Josh!’ calls us) cannot (must not!) connect the dots…You can only ‘show and tell’ up to a point…youth need to (and will!) take it from there.

Example…After I’d mentioned that the number of male energy drinkers has been explosive (Packaging Boyhood authors update my data, citing about 64% in the past five years according to Beverage Marketing Corp with sales expected to top $9 billion in three years) my question to the kids:

“Where are energy drinks headed?” was met with shout-outs like, “to the bank” and “to Disneyland” and other endearing witticisms that literally could’ve sprung from the pages of Packaging Boyhood as ‘archetypes’ in the ‘class clown’ category…

One boy yelled, “Shooters!”

And the conversation went something like this:

Amy: Good one. Ok. Gun? Game? Or gullet?
Boy: “huh? What d’you mean? What’s a gullet?”
Amy: Let me try again…What do you mean by ‘shooters?’ Tell me more…
Boy: You know…SHOOTERS….like poppers. Shots. You slam it. (11 year old makes a bottoms up motion, slams hand on table)

monster hitmanBingo. Just like espresso is a compact version of coffee, energy ‘shots’ have seen a $560 million surge in the last year over “flattening” sales of energy drinks…with people wanting a ‘quick fix’ to fatigue and such fast. The visuals he gave me reinforced that he knows a ‘shot’ when he sees one, from the bar room banter…which feeds right into the lexicon of marketing ‘ubercool’ to kids via grownup land. (even the BK Burger Shots have this positioning)

Monster’s ‘paid to party’ pitch for their “Monster girls” epitomizes the ‘aspirational’ teenybopper style that typifies energy drinks as the gateway mixer with alcohol…or as the authors write in the Packaging Boyhood ‘Wanna Play’ chapter, “Beer and Babes: The Man Law” it’s pretty hard to see “Xtreme” sports without either energy drinks or beer close at hand.

Since soda sales are finally slumping a tad, and energy drinks are reaching a plateau, it’s no secret brands have been amping up the hype with new ploys to expand market share (ahem, the iPhone app “AMP up before you score” w/its collection of ‘types’ of women in ‘trading card’ mode met an early demise due to backlash)…

amp up

But really, folks…

…Must Monster make ‘monsters’ out of young boys targeting them with rowdy, racing, cursing, peeing, stunt driving studliness to turn them into 15-year old wannabe party animals to boost sales? I think we know the $560 million answer.

Here’s the video sample, below…now where’s the backlash? What about the boys? Any DAD bloggers want to weigh in here on the messaging to your sons?

Ron Mattocks has got a great post up over on his blog, ‘Clark Kent’s Lunchbox’ about manhood and what it all means, featuring The Good Men Project “real stories from the front lines of modern manhood”…Yesterday he also ran a great review of Packaging Boyhood so perhaps HE could weigh in on this Monster muck. Moms? Youth marketers? Are we numb to how it’s all landing on boys? Even Verizon’s new Droid campaign smacks of a similar narrowcasting, stereotyped vibe…

Is this the new shoulder shrug acceptance? Should I count to ten before the trolls start to power-zing my blog with foul-laced epithets about why I need to ‘get laid’ and ‘get a life’ instead of sounding off that this short-sighted marketing style is trashing kids’ psyches…

behaviorA little accountability on the persuasion behavioral model please, people?  (visual at left, BJ Fogg; Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab)

And fergawdsakes don’t give me the line about how they’re ‘really targeting adults not kids’ with this message. Yeppers. Just like the BK Squarebutts creepy King…It’s adults Monster is after. Yup. You betcha. The Camel Orbs nicotine strips with the teen girl in the ad too…same deal. Uh-huh. She was just a prop. The ad was for adult users. And the pink cigarettes too. They were NOT going after ingénues. No way. And the alcopops and the…

….Feel free to keep the list going in the comments below. 😉

Each commenter (or tweet) will be entered to win a copy of Packaging Boyhood, as we’ll be giving out three copies before the year’s end. Trolls, please behave…don’t be monsters.

Shaping Youth’s toxic Tuesday pick of the week worthy of inclusion in Packaging Boyhood:

Energy Drink Snapshot (non-alcoholic)

How Do Energy Drinks Works?

Popular Energy Drinks Cause Tooth Erosion

Energy Drinks, Whey Protein & More: Dietary Supplements & Teen Athletes

Energy Fiend’s Caffeine Database (comparison/chart in oz/mg of A-Z beverages)

Idea Mapping: Effects of Caffeine

Energy Drink Common Ingredients/Glossary

NPR Podcast: The Buzz Over Energy Drinks

Energy Drinks Primer/Core Health Concerns: Brown University Health Ed

Energy Drink Snapshot (alcoholic  or mixed)

YouTube MSN Report: Alcoholic Energy Drinks

Center on Alcohol Marketing & Youth: CAMY Fact Sheets

A Booze Buzz for TeenyBoppers?

Scary Enough for Ya? Alcoholic Energy Drinks

Alcohol, Energy Drinks & Youth, A Dangerous Mix

Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Calculator

Shaping Youth’s Energy Drink Articles by Amy Jussel (tons of embedded data links)

Energy Drinks and Alcohol, A Monster Mix of Madness

Rockstar21 Rocks for Ditching Their Confusing Cans!

Hey, Kids, Your “Energy Drinks” Now Come With Alcohol!

Maxed Out on Energy Drinks? Diet Pepsi Max Says Wake Up People!

Sugary Sodas Falter, Now Caffeine & Sodium Rule

Peer Driven Junk Food Allure & What’s Cool to Kids

Cocaine In A Can

For others interested in alcohol marketing masquerading as pop, Marin Institute is a wealth of information on these ‘alcopop’ tactics, complete with an advocacy lever to take action, and youth orgs that take charge.



  1. When you put it this way, it’s beyond obvious and ridiculous. I guess this kind of acculturation might explain why those boys who choose to join academic teams, ex. Lego League, get flack from their public school “friends” for being weird.

    These marketing messages about what’s desirable for young boys harm them, even if they’re not buying the drinks.
    .-= Sandra Foyt´s last blog ..Dreaming of a White Christmas =-.

  2. I agree with Sandra’s observation: “… what’s desirable for young boys harm them, even if they’re not buying the drinks.” I referenced your article in a blog posting on Tikkun Daily posing a question as to why an anti-war advertisement might create outrage (and even not get run) whereas a product called “Hitman Shooter” is seemingly celebrated?

  3. i just wanted to say thanks to you for havin this pic so far up on google because this is the only plain logo that i get to use for my tattoo stencil…thanks…that should be your next subject to attack…the fact that tattoos create evil people and they shouldnt belong in your perfect society where you can take a simple sports team/drink and turn it to something that its not…like a VICIOUS company that wants to turn your little child into a monster…its a name not a gang

  4. Dear Anonymous ‘Mike’…I’m glad you are happy you snagged the photo for your tat, and are now satisfied being a human billboard for this popular brand…

    Now, if you’d like to READ the post and REVIEW the video before commenting ‘viciously’ you’ll find the bite is at the corporate ethics, accountability, and responsibility of multi-million dollar mega media buys transforming kids into commercialized brand evangelists sans forethought to market ‘uber cool’ via peer to peer/word of mouth marketing and wannabes in the gender/narrowcast ‘masculine magnet’ of how pop culture chooses to package manhood.

    But then…the ink is still drying isn’t it? Oops. Too late. Have fun with your tat…

    Hope it creates the sense of belonging you’re looking for. And nope it’s NOT a gang. It’s a corporation. Leaving an indelible mark on kid culture to make a buck and market what they deem to be coolness cache.

    Corporations do NOT have your back, but you clearly have theirs…Game over. sigh.

  5. Hey just you don’t like it doesn’t mean everyone has to hate it!I’m a 16 year old girl I drink amps,monster energy, and rockstars all the time in fact I drink at least 2 of each every day and I’m not dead.I’ve drunken energy drinks since iI was five years old, and I still like them SO DON’T BE TALKING SMACK ABOUT STUFF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND UNLESS YOUR A TEEN NOW!!!!!GEEZ!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Unfortunately, Kiara, I “understand” it all too well, and if you read through some of the research and links in other posts, ranging from IOM medical analysis of impact of caffeine in adolescents and the deadly combo of energy drinks w/sports exertion/cardiac cocktails on the field, you might open your mind to what these corporations are marketing to you with reckless ‘who cares, let’s make a buck and make it cool’ persuasive targeting of motivations and behaviors. Too lengthy to expound upon fully here, but hope you’ll see related posts on this blog and others that link to the inherent issues from a health perspective. (And, er…two a day since you were 5 years old? Do you have parents? Curious.)

  7. Well, now, ‘Kiara’ that you’ve left the same comment (found in my spam filter for duplication) w/different names each time…so I must ask…is this another teen poseur/corporate shill? In other words, do you WORK for Monster, perhaps? (I get a lot of comebacks from corporations attempting to ‘speak up’ for their brand.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the energy drinks/alcohol stories I’ve written about too…Here’s a link so you can ‘defend’ those marketing practices too! https://shapingyouth.org/?p=1589

  8. Concerned male says

    I think that it’s not energy drinks and marketing that make boys “monsters”. It’s completely normal for boys to act tough and rowdy. The drink that makes us act out is a cocktail of hormones, not caffeine and gurana. If it weren’t for energy drinks, kids would turn to alcohol and drugs to act cool. Sure the marketing is a bit extreme, but isn’t that what marketing is all about? I’ve never seen one advertisement that doesn’t say that their brand is the best. Although I do agree on the marketing confusion. I once purchased a soda at a 711, only to find out that it was very alcoholic upon consumption.

  9. Jermaine Matayoshi says

    I really love energy drinks because it can help restore your vitality after a heavy workout and heavy cardio activities like running and cycling. *”`:”

  10. That’s incorrect and very seriously scary if you’re attempting ‘energy drink’ jolts involving workouts in ANY manner! DO NOT.

    See this NYTimes recent piece on the escalation of energy drink emergencies and danger of a molotov cardiac cocktail: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/health/01brody.html And this piece on America’s preventable health risks The caffeine alone can create jolt and crash cardiac issues…

    Perhaps you are thinking of sports drinks for hydration? Even then, health studies have shown that “heavy” cardio workouts/activities in the zone of say, er…um…Lance Armstrong cycling for an hour are about the only time sports drinks are necessary…

    Here are a couple of articles with links to studies you might want to peruse. Please, PLEASE do your homework on this with health pros and NOT let the marketing pros sway! Youth are getting seriously impacted by these slam-n-go scenarios…

    Be careful out there!

    p.s. Here’s a simple primer from WebMD to get you started on water vs sports drinks, etc: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/drink-up-sports-fitness but NEVER EVER go for ‘energy’ supplements…aaaaugh! 🙁

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