[Adapted from Richard A. Daynard’s presentation to the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools’ Agriculture and Food Law section, January 5, 2013.]
Soda consumption is a major contributor to adolescent obesity.1 Fortunately, soda consumption has been declining recently,2 presumably as a result of adverse media attention and policy initiatives like the ban on most sugar-sweetened beverages in schools.
PepsiCo has decided to do something about that, and has designed its “Live for Now” campaign in an effort to reverse the decline in teenage soda consumption. The campaign takes advantage of known adolescent vulnerabilities which result from the facts that the inhibitory structures of their brains are not fully developed, hormonal changes further reduce inhibitions while lowering self-esteem, and their psychosocial development focuses on identity formation and social acceptance.3 As a result they tend to be impulsive, thrill-seeking, and “now”-oriented. While they may rationally balance perceived risks and benefits, doing so does not necessarily inure to their best long-term interests.
Pepsi’s Live for Now campaign, like the infamous Joe Camel campaign used by R.J. Reynolds, is designed to prey upon these adolescent vulnerabilities in an effort to reverse declining consumption trends as well as to market a particular product.
Unlike cigarette advertisers, Pepsi is free to take its campaign to the airwaves. It will do so in a big way when it will sponsor the Superbowl Halftime Show featuring Beyoncé, who recently entered into a $50 million endorsement deal with PepsiCo.
The Federal Trade Commission could bring an enforcement action under its unfairness jurisdiction, and state attorneys general and private attorneys could seek injunctive relief under state consumer protection laws.
But little is likely to happen unless public outrage is focused on this campaign, and unless regulators and judges learn more about the biological and developmental underpinnings of faulty adolescent decision-making.
1. Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. Lancet 2001; 357: 505–508.
2. Strom, S. (2012). “Soda Makers Scramble to Fill Void as Sales Drop.” The New York Times, May 15, 2012.
3. Pechman, Cornelia, Linda Levine, Sandra Loughlin, and Frances Leslie (2005), “Impulsive and Self-Conscious: Adolescents’ Vulnerability to Advertising and Promotion,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 24 (Fall), 202-221.
Research assistance by Brendan Burke and Cara Wilking
Support for this research was provided, in part, by the National Cancer Institute (2R01CA087571).