“I’ll have three Versaces and two Mitsubishis please. Or do you have any Bacardis left?” In the 1990’s, sentences like these could be heard all over the world, providing you were in the right club, enjoying the nightlife. Big brands were being used in drug trafficking. Makes sense, because what better way to set your XTC batch apart than with … a logo? An overdose of branding? BLA interviewed the officer upholding the law, the dealer and the user.
Interview with the law
Back in the nineties, XTC exploded onto the nightlife scene. And just like any new product on the market, XTC had to set itself apart from the other ‘brands’. Soon people started printing logos onto the pills and this found its way into standard club conversation: a Fisherman, a Mitsubishi … The use of logos actually helped launch the drug. At its peak, about 300 different brand names for XTC were in use and about every three to six months, a new ‘brand’ went ‘to market’. The choice of logos depended on its ability to be instantly recognised by the users. The printing was done on illegal tablet presses. Although dealers used it as a ‘trusted brand’, you could never be sure one logo meant all pills were manufactured in the same lab. A logo on an illegal pill does not guarantee its quality, no matter what the ‘brand fans’ might think. The logo was just an exterior trademark, used to dupe the target audience. The composition of the pills varied wildly.
Every criminal organisation is an economic entity. Overhead production costs have to be kept as low as possible. Sometimes, the production process was divided over different labs, limiting the size of its operation, its chances of becoming a neighbourhood nuisance and the chances of getting caught. And if they did get caught, the police was only able to confiscate part of the stash.
Logos and brand names are protected as intellectual property. Applying a registered logo to pills for economical gains is, of course, strictly forbidden by law. No drug czars were losing sleep over this, initially. Until some ‘manufacturers’ in the Netherlands were convicted to paying hefty fines and even doing real jail time based on intellectual property laws. Abusing logos is damaging to the image and reputation of a company. This company can engage in legal action, although in many cases it’s difficult to point out the actual culprit and they are often protected by the privacy of the official case files.
Interview with an ex-dealer: what do drugs and brands have in common?
Ex-drugdealer X: “The brand is an important aspect of a drug. The first thing people notice is the logo and the colour. Being instantly recognisable is a boost for sales, so the manufacturers use popular brands. Me, I bought my pills with a well-known brand stamped on them. And I didn’t sell any pills with a tribal pattern or the flag of a Latin-American country. Users don’t recognise these pills, so they don’t go near them. The buyer looks at the brand first, the colour comes second. The brands are the stimulus for buying. If you recognise one brand from daily life, the choice is easy. When Puma was more popular than Nike with young people, the pills followed suit. Sometimes people would ask me about new brands being available. Of course, the pills themselves had nothing to do with the brands in question. Most people think one brand has one specific formula, but that’s simply not true. This is why it’s so dangerous for frequent users. No matter which brand you choose, the formula can always vary. New brands and logos pop up all the time. Manufacturers do their research on which brands are popular within their target audience. There was Pikachu from the TV-show Pokémon; there was the Paul Frank monkey … Is the popularity fading? No problem, there are thousands of brands we could use for the drug trade. I now realise these brands were abused to stimulate sales. I suppose big brands could sue you for this … but what difference would it make?”
Interview with a user: addicted to your brand?
“The price is just as important as the brand. If I use a pill that has a certain logo on it, and I’m happy with the effect, I will ask for the same logo next time if that’s possible. I often check the brand of the pill, but it’s not that important. Dancing and nightlife, that’s what my life is about.”
XTC as branding vehicle
An XTC manufacturer is a marketeer. Product recognition and quality guarantee are high on the priority list. When they are combined, the user frequency will go up. The amount of times the intellectual laws are being breached will also rise, along with the brand recognition. Why does a certain target group prefer an A-brand instead of a B-brand when the formula is almost the same? The power of the logo is so strong, its brand values are instantly transferred to the new ‘product’. Whatever the pills are made of, the perceived quality is determined by the logo stamp, not by the content.
What do you think? Would you prefer a Starbucks pill over a Lidl pill?