Communication Gone Loko

Four Loko ConversationCollege students everywhere are still reminiscing about the days when they could find “real” Loko at the local liquor store.  The original formula is long gone and I may know why.

Four Loko and its creator Phusion Projects were under scrutiny from several different organizations for being in the middle of quite a few dramatic episodes on different college campuses.  When companies need help with crisis management they contract a strong PR team whose normal response is to:

  • NOT panic or respond defiantly in the face of accusations.
  • Never lie.
  • NOT assume an angry, almighty or negative posture — at any time.
  • Show good faith in answering negativity with clear, accurate and relevant  information.  (Fineman PR)

Unfortunately for Phusion Projects, they hired a PR team that did not read my post!  An Edelman PR (one of the big names in independent PR firms and Loko’s new crisis manager) representative asked the Seattle Weekly to change the wording in one of their recent online stories covering the alcohol content of the product.  The Edelman representative then committed some poorly thought out word vomit which caused even more dubious glances to be cast on Four Loko and its place among other alcoholic beverages.

Here is the interaction as it occurred, courtesy of the Seattle Weekly:

The flack took issue with Caleb’s statement that Four Loko “has the alcoholic equivalent of five or six caffeinated beers.” (No objection was made to his describing the drink as tasting like “Thor’s piss.”) Said Edelman:

This statement is not correct…Please remove this error from the online version of your story and please use the correct information from the materials we provided.

We looked at the materials provided, which said a can of Four Loko is 12 percent alcohol by volume. Well, that’s almost three times the abv of a can of PBR. And a can of Four Loko, at 23 ounces, is roughly twice the size. So that works out to five or six beers’ worth of alcohol per can.

But hey, we’re always open to a second check of our math. OK, we replied, How many beers would you say a can of Four Loko is equal to?

It depends on the beer–domestics or the high-end crafts or imports.

How about an “average beer”?

What’s an average beer? A Bud or a craft /Euro beer with considerably higher alcohol content by volume?

Given that your typical Phusion Projects customer isn’t likely to be choosing between Four Loko and a Grolsch, this response seemed evasive to the point of silliness.

Indeed, the Edelman representative insisted that wine was the better analogy, as if the Four Loko customer might opt for a light Pinot instead.

A can of Four Loko is equal to about 2 glasses of wine.

But even that’s complete horseshit. Yes, Four Loko has about the same alcohol by volume as your average wine. But your typical serving of wine is about 5 ounces. Which means there’s actually close to five glasses of wine in a can of Four Loko.

Not to burst this poor man’s wordy and convoluted bubble, but according to the Washington Attorney General’s office, researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Virginia concluded that  “A can of Four Loko is equal to 5.64 standard drinks.” If the PR reps had not turned down this path, I bet no one would have been asking for the exact alcohol content of the Loko.


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