Complaint Accuses Pepsi of Deceptive Marketing

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Four consumer advocacy and privacy organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday alleging that PepsiCo and its Frito-Lay subsidiary are engaging in deceptive digital marketing practices targeted at adolescents.

The complaint — by the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Consumer Action and the Praxis Project — contends that digital marketing campaigns created by PepsiCo, including the Hotel 626 and Asylum 626 Web sites and an online concert featuring Rhianna, violate federal trade law that prohibits marketers from using unfair or deceptive acts or practices.

The campaigns promote the Doritos snack chips. and are horror-themed Web sites where users get treatment at the asylum or walk through a haunted hotel. The video promotion with Rhianna and other artists took place on the Web site
The complaint says that the campaigns create the illusion that they are entertainment instead of advertising. It also contends that the sites do not clearly state how and to what extent the data collected on users will be shared or used.

“Pepsi is really in the forefront of using digital marketing to promote its products, including its snack chip line,” said Jeffrey Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy. “They have unabashedly targeted teens.”

A spokeswoman for the F.T.C. said the commission had received a complaint and would review carefully. A representative for Frito-Lay declined to comment, saying the company had not yet seen the complaint.

The groups’ accusations come as the Federal Trade Commission prepares to issue a final report on consumer privacy in the coming months. The commission also is part of an interagency panel created to analyze food marketing to children.

The panel, which also includes the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Agriculture, submitted proposed voluntary guidelines for marketers in April.

On Oct. 12, David C. Vladeck, the commission’s director of the bureau of consumer protection, testified at a hearing on food marketing, saying the new proposed guidelines would not include children aged 12 to 17.

Marketing efforts that are philanthropic in nature, or geared towards families and general audiences and not just children, also would not be affected by the guidelines. Characters used to promote food would be unaffected, said Mr. Vladeck, who stressed that the commission would support “strong and meaningful industry self-regulation.”

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