Anti-drinking campaign ads may be counterproductive

Some anti-drinking advertising campaigns may be
“catastrophically misconceived” because they play on the entertaining
‘drinking stories’ that young people use to mark their social identity,
say researchers who have just completed a three year study of the
subject.

Adverts that show drunken incidents, such as being thrown out
of a nightclub, being carried home or passing out in a doorway, are
often seen by young people as being a typical story of a ‘fun’ night
out, rather than as a cautionary tale.

Whilst these adverts, such as Diageo’s thechoiceisyours
campaign, imply that being very drunk with friends carries a penalty of
social disapproval, for many young people the opposite is often the
case.

“Extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal
esteem and social affirmation amongst young people,” said Professor
Christine Griffin from the University of Bath, who led the research with
colleagues from Royal Holloway, University of London and the University
of Birmingham.

“Our detailed research interviews revealed that tales of
alcohol-related mishaps and escapades were key markers of young peoples’
social identity.

“These ‘drinking stories’ also deepen bonds of friendship and cement group membership.

“Not only does being in a friendship group legitimise being
very drunk – being the subject of an extreme drinking story can raise
esteem within the group.”

Professor Chris Hackley in the School of Management at Royal
Holloway added: “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.

“This suggests that anti-drinking advertising campaigns that
target this kind of behaviour may be catastrophically misconceived.”

The research, which was funded by the Economic & Social
Research Council, involved in-depth interviews with 94 young people in
three UK regions over a period of three years.

“The study suggests a radical re-thinking of national alcohol
policy is required which takes into account the social character of
alcohol consumption and the identity implications for young people,”
said Professor Hackley.

Professor Isabelle Szmigin from Birmingham Business School,
University of Birmingham, added: “Whilst many young people recognise the
damage that ‘drinking too much’ can do to their health, and the
associated risks of physical and sexual assault, few view these as more
than short term problems.”

The research team also comprised Dr Willm Mistral and Dr
Andrew Bengry-Howell of the University of Bath. Dr Mistral is Research
Manager of the Mental Health R&D Unit at the University, and Dr
Bengry-Howell is Research Assistant on the project.