V accused of contributing to rape culture with new 'spiked punch' drink

V energy drink spiked punch flavour
A marketing lecturer says the company has to walk a fine line between generating attention and outrage (Newshub.)

Energy drink V's new flavour has drawn criticism for alluding to the spiking of drinks.

The drink is called "spiked punch", a term commonly used to refer to a drink covertly laced with alcohol or drugs.

But while it's drawn negative attention from Rape Prevention Education and the National Council of Women for the implication of spiked drinks, the parent company is standing by the name.

"Drink spiking is a serious issue and we certainly don't condone or encourage it in any way," Frucor told Newshub in a statement.

"With V Spiked Punch we have taken careful steps to explain that for V 'spiking' is synonymous with taking ordinary everyday situations and applying the energy that V provides to make them extraordinary."

When the name was noticed by V's social media followers, one sarcastically commented: "Spiked drinks are normally associated with date rape. Nice going with the name pick, V".

V responded to the Facebook comment, saying: "We don't want anyone putting anything in anyone's drink, ever. This hasn't got any alcohol in it, and when we say spiked we mean with guarana energy."

The "obvious connotations" are concerning, according to Rape Prevention Education executive director Debbi Tohill.

"This indicates a lack of responsibility from the company and leads to the rape culture we have that is so prevalent today," Ms Tohill told Newshub.

That message was echoed by the National Council of Women.

"We all get the connotations around date rape with this new product name, and we don't need to tell New Zealanders why this is wrong," spokesperson Lynn McKenzie told Newshub.

"Wouldn't it be great if V was selling 'Consensual Guarana' having their customers say 'YES YES YES!' rather than something sneaky and underhand?"

The company is likely to be playing on an "Americanised notion of non-alcoholic punches at 'proms' being spiked - something we often see on imported TV shows and movies, which actually seems odd for a New Zealand context", Dr Pani Farvid, senior psychology lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, told Newshub.

V energy drink spiked punch flavour (Newshub.)

But she said the notion of a spiked drink is "reminiscent of date rape drugs, which are used to spike drinks." Either way, she said the language promotes the idea that spiking a drink is a relatively normal occurrence, which is problematic.

"Spiked means some people might not know what is actually in their drink, so that is a huge problem, and relates directly to consent. We should know what is in a drink we are consuming as much as we should all be able to decide with whom, how and when we have sex."

People who are intoxicated are unable to legally provide consent for sexual activity, something Dr Farvid says is "rarely discussed but important in combating rape culture".

The use of language is not "particularly thoughtful", especially with the current level of attention being paid to rape culture, Dr Michael Lee, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Auckland, told Newshub.

He said the marketing is in line with V's branding, which means that "in a sad way, they can get away with it."

"If V is known to be a bit more controversial and edgy and a bit cheeky to begin with, then a name, even if it is controversial, should be less controversial than, say, Whittaker's coming up with an equivalent liquor chocolate and calling it 'spiked punch', because we don't associate Whittaker's with those values," he said.

Frucor referred Newshub to the Urban Dictionary definition of spiking in its defence; while the first definition is regarding mixing alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic, the second refers to joking, or "pulling someone's leg".

"This is the fun-loving attitude of V and the spirit of this product. It also refers to the fact that V has a kick of natural energy in the form of guarana," Frucor said.

Dr Lee said when brands do something controversial, they are "banking on it getting a certain level of attention, but not going over the line and having people flame you for it".

It is "every marketer's worst nightmare" to misjudge the mood of their target audience and ending up alienating their audience, he said.

Frucor has defended its product against the criticism, saying it doesn't intend for anyone to interpret "spiked punch" as referring to the common drink mixed with alcohol.

"If for any reason anyone has taken this the wrong way we apologise unreservedly and support the message that tampering with drinks is not okay," it said.

A protest against rape culture took place at Parliament on Monday and Ms McKenzie said the timing is notable.

"Yesterday hundreds of young people protested at Parliament, calling for more education around consent in New Zealand schools. This is a timely example of rape culture and how it appears in our everyday lives."