Producers need to 're-think' responsible drinking ads

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Responsible drinking, Alcoholism, Drinking culture

Drinks groups may stepping up their efforts to promote responsible
alcohol consumption, but some of their latest advertising campaigns
have been labelled as "catastrophically misconceived",
according to new research.

The findings, led by professor Christine Griffin of the University of Bath, suggest that despite their intentions, alcohol producers must reassess how they are tackling the issue of irresponsible drinking through advertising. The research will come as a blow to the industry, which is increasingly coming under scrutiny from legislators over the actions they are taking to prevent irresponsible drinking. Griffin's claims therefore could lead to stricter controls, that may override the current self-regulation, on how products are distributed and sold. Diageo's "TheChoiceIsYours"​ campaign, was one example picked by the findings of an advert that had misjudged drinking habits of young people in the UK, the research claimed. Then testing was carried out in conjunction with the Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Birmingham. In the adverts, Diageo aimed to show that drinking with friends carries the penalty of social disapproval, though according to Griffen, this is often not the case with the opposite being true. "Extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal esteem and social affirmation amongst young people,"​ she stated. "Our detailed research interviews revealed that tales of alcohol-related mishaps and escapades were key markers of young peoples' social identity." ​Fellow researcher professor Chris Hackley, a member of the Royal Holloway School of Management, said that the findings indicated that the adverts had failed in their key objectives. "Inebriation within the friendship group is often part of a social bonding ritual that is viewed positively and linked with fun, friendship and good times, although some young people can be the target of humiliating or risky activities,"​ he stated. "This suggests that anti-drinking advertising campaigns that target this kind of behaviour may be catastrophically misconceived." ​ Hackley therefore used the research to call for a "re-thinking"​ of national alcohol policy, which he claims might better reflect the "social character"​ of drinking and its implications in the country. The research team also included professor Isabelle Szmigin of the Birmingham Business School and Dr Willm Mistral and Dr Andrew Bengry-Howell of the University of Bath. However, the findings are in contradiction with other independent research carried out for Diageo on its advertising campaigns that ran earlier this year. According to the company, 66 per cent of those surveyed about the campaigns said they would reconsider how they drink alcohol.​The survey, between 29 May to 6 June, queried consumers on the adverts. The testing, conducted by Millward Brown on 300 participants all over 18, focused on two adverts commissioned by Diageo​ that aired on both national terrestrial and satellite channels in May on the dangers of drinking excessively. A further 80 per cent of those surveyed said the adverts made them question their drinking habits, while 96 per cent welcomed responsible drinking​ initiatives by beverage companies. Jean Collingwood, chief executive officer for the industry-based responsible drinking imitative Drinkaware said the findings were an encouraging sign that alcohol manufactures were succeeding in promoting responsible drinking. "The results of this evaluation lead the way in demonstrating how companies can use consumer intelligence, insight and marketing skills to positively challenge and impact upon consumer behaviour,"​ she stated. "Many companies in the industry are committed to CSR programmes on a number of platforms which are already creating an impact."​ The attempts by the industry to promote greater understanding of the need for responsible drinking come as the European Commission continues to apply pressure to reform the sale of alcohol. In June, the Commission formed the Alcohol and Health Forum, which currently consists of 40 businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGOS), designed to reduce excessive alcohol consumption particularly amongst young people in the bloc. To do this, the group will offer greater education for young people on the dangers of drinking, while putting curbs on irresponsible alcohol advertising and sales practices. The forum, which will meet twice a year, will be open to any producers or groups that can detail an action plan on how they will contribute to reducing excessive consumption. These initiatives will also be made public, so that the members can be judged on how they are faring. It will also allow other producers and NGOs to adapt the more successful initiatives, to better curb excessive alcohol consumption. Along with self regulatory policies, the body will also establish a science group to advice on both scientific and policy issues. This work will also be backed by task forces, with two already established to cover marketing communication and youth-specific issues. Excessive consumption of alcohol is estimated to kill 200,000 Europeans a year, according to the bloc's figures. This pattern is attributed predominantly to men aged 15 - 29 with one in four of alcohol related deaths coming from this demographic. Though women were found to fair better in the study, estimates still claim that alcohol is responsible for the death of one in ten females belonging to the same age group.

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