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Beverage companies use tobacco strategies to snag young customers

A new study examining previously secret documents shows tobacco conglomerates bought beverage brands in the 60s and 70s and used tobacco-style marketing to convert kids to customers.

By
Tauren Dyson
Tobacco companies, through food subsidiaries, began buying soft drink companies in 1963 and started using the same strategies to sell sodas and other sugary drinks. File Photo by John Angelilo/UPI
Tobacco companies, through food subsidiaries, began buying soft drink companies in 1963 and started using the same strategies to sell sodas and other sugary drinks. File Photo by John Angelilo/UPI | License Photo

March 15 (UPI) -- Big tobacco companies once used tasty flavors, bright colors and other techniques to lure young smokers.

Then they began buying soft drink companies in 1963 and started using the same strategies to sell sodas and other sugary drinks, according to a study published Thursday in the British Medical Journal.

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"Executives in the two largest U.S.-based tobacco companies had developed colors and flavors as additives for cigarettes and used them to build major children's beverage product lines, including Hawaiian Punch, Kool-Aid, Tang and Capri Sun," said Laura Schmidt, a researcher at University of California, San Francisco and study senior author, in a news release. "Even after the tobacco companies sold these brands to food and beverage corporations, many of the product lines and marketing techniques designed to attract kids are still in use today."

The study pulls data from previously secret documents that show marketing campaigns for sugary soft drinks from tobacco industry leaders R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.

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One popular strategy was the 1983 introduction of America's first juice box, which sparked a 34 percent spike in juice sales for R.J. Reynolds, the study says.

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By 1985, Philip Morris had introduced its "Kool-Aid Man" mascot, a jolly bright red pitcher with legs, arms and a beaming smile. The company also had tie-in marketing campaigns with Barbie and Hot Wheels.

"The Wacky Wild Kool-Aid style campaign had tremendous reach and impact," said Kim Nguyen, a researcher at UCSF and study first author, in a news release. "Lots of kids in the '80s dreamed of getting swag from the Wacky Warehouse. What is really 'wacky' is that the Kool-Aid kid program was modeled after a tobacco marketing strategy designed to build allegiance with smokers."

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In 2004, Philip Morris had launched at least 36 flavors of Kool-Aid, which included the "Great Bluedini," a cartoon character with vibrant colors. The tobacco company also purchased Capri Sun and Tang, and used similar child-centric marketing strategies to push sales.

Today, the effect of those marketing campaigns still have a foothold in the American diet.

Young people in the U.S. drink 143 calories every day in sugary drinks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly one in five young people between six and 19 is obese.

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To combat claims that they irresponsibly market their products to young people, soft drink companies launched Children's Advertising Review Unit and Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

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These organizations aim to self-police the advertisements for their surgery drinks that include fruit juices, sports and energy drinks, soda and other beverages sweetened with added sugars and other sweeteners, but the researchers suggest they have not gone far enough.

"Parents do play a significant role in what their kids eat and drink," Nguyen said. "However, we cannot underestimate the influence of these beverage corporations and their marketing. They intentionally develop marketing campaigns that appeal to kids by making the drinks fun and exciting."

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