Tab Energy Kills You Dead
The famously toxic retro cola nails women with a new, pink energy drink. Because you love it
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
You know what's brilliant, in a skin-peeling, brain-grinding, I-can't-feel-my-soul sort of way? Target marketing.
Target marketing, like when they take some toxic product you don't really need and which you already know rots the lining of your skull and which could probably power a nuclear reactor, and then they put it into a special new package and pump it full with $100 million in marketing money and aim it straight at some exclusive demographic that's not actually exclusive but which they want you to think is exclusive so if you belong to it you can say, Oh my goodness, I'm part of a sly, hip subculture and they're speaking directly to me. I am so cool.
Take Tab. Tab is that freakishly kitschy, creepy-tasting diet cola from the '60s you can barely get anymore but which is still drunk by hordes of secret Tab cultists and fetishists, people who will have multiple cases of the virulent drain opener shipped to their private refrigerators every week from the handful of Coca-Cola plants that still produce it, because the stuff is wickedly addictive and crazily unhealthy and is still, apparently, cheaper than heroin. But in a good way.
Yes, Tab, that saccharin-loaded, oddly metallic, rumored-to-be-cancer-causing rocket fuel your mom drank throughout the '70s and which she had for breakfast with her Pall Malls and her birth-control pill and which came (and still comes) in that lovingly tacky pink can and which has come back into vogue on that rogue wave of retro '70s kitsch, the wave that we are all hoping will go away very, very soon, much in the same way we all pray for the quick and fiery end of Ashlee Simpson and Crazy Frog and Mel Gibson movies. That Tab.
Alas, Tab lives on. Because God help us, there is now Tab Energy, a re-engineered, reformulated, rebranded version of the famous '60s blood pollutant that of course tastes nothing like the original and from which they took out the saccharin and swapped in sucrose and tripled the caffeine and added a bunch of synthetic herbs, and are now trotting it out as a specialized energy drink for "fabulous" (read: anorexic, jittery, L.A.-wannabe) women who care far less about their health than they do about text messaging and what will make a bitchin' mixer for their Stoli.
Yes, Tab Energy is yet another completely gratuitous Red Bull wannabe in the $85 gazillion energy-drink market, one that tastes, according to various reports, like a liquid Jolly Rancher, like cough syrup mixed with Pixie Stix, like Sweet Tart-flavored Alka-Seltzer. You know, the kind of delicious verbiage that make you say, Oh my God yes, I want to pump four cans of that into my flesh right now. God bless America.
Did you see the commercials? During the Oscars? When the Coca-Cola Co., the world's largest manufacturer of synthetic sugar-blasted chemical-loaded corn-syrupy obesity-causing addiction-inducing goop in the history of mankind, launched Tab Energy into the world the way a bad Vegas comic launches an insult?
The ads featured a slew of loud, brash, oddly unattractive, L.A.-tainted women with way too much makeup who were apparently amped on six cans of the pinkish stuff because they needed the extra energy to help make them feel even more, uh, suckered in by the culture, an attitude that apparently entails a great deal of eyeliner and lipstick and strutting down the street in high-heeled boots and that might or might not include a Pall Mall and a case of birth-control pills.
It is merely the latest in a relentless barrage of violently pink, taurine-jacked, Splenda-sweetened energy drinks aimed at women and girls and caffeine addicts, drinks called, well, Pink and Her and even, say it with me now, Sugar Free Kabbalah Energy Drink. (Yes! Whore that ancient mystical religious sect to death, you Madonna-sucking L.A. Kabbalah geniuses! God loves shameless co-branding! Next up: Kabbalah-flavored condoms. Watch for it.)
Caffeine, of course, is key. It is our favorite drug, meth for the masses. A basic can of Coke has about 45 mg of the world's most beloved drug. A good cup of strong coffee has about 80 milligrams. The average sickly sweet, fizzy energy drink, from Tab Energy to Monster to Liquid Ice to Rockstar, has anywhere from 100 to 200. And they all taste like some nasty Frankenstein inbreed of liquefied Skittles, road chalk and the blood of dead moths.
But no matter. Tab Energy is being carefully target marketed to hip, urban, fashionably unhealthy women -- you know, the kind who look to Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan for their branding and diet tips -- because Coke saw a ripe opportunity to cash in on both the retro fashion trend and the energy-drink craze at the same time, all via milking one of its old brands for a few more bucks and messing with women even more because, well, it's what they do. And who can blame them?
After all, people are buying the stuff by the truckload, thanks to the genius of target marketing, an angle that takes the worst aspects of regular marketing (the pitilessness, the hollow flattery of your ego, the creation of a false sense of belonging to a group that really doesn't exist) and amplifies them to such a degree that you are led to feel that if you don't partake of the product at hand, you are wildly unhip and out of touch and desperately lost, not to mention probably, like, totally old.
It is merely the direction of the species, another limp cultural signifier to look to see how we are progressing, what we value, where we are headed, with what sort of attitude we now value the body and the mind.
And what, pray tell, does the existence of Tab Energy prove? What does it say about how we think of women and the body? Very little, actually. At least, nothing you haven't heard a million times before. If anything, it's just a little derogatory, a winking slap in the face to progress and health and awareness. Which, for this time and this place and this bitterly anti-choice, neocon era, feels exactly appropriate.
By the way, there was another Coke-owned product launch during the Oscars. It is called Coca-Cola Blak. It is not, as you might imagine, Coca-Cola infused with the essences of Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock. It is, rather, merely Coca-Cola Classic, the same one that's ruined more teeth and rotted more esophagi and numbed more brains than heroin and marijuana and cocaine combined, mixed with -- you guessed it -- black coffee.
And the gods went, Sigh.