Campaign for Smarter Drinking

The drinks industry has announced a £100M campaign to promote responsible drinking, due to be launched in September.

The campaign, to run over five years, targets binge
drinkers and includes advice such as eating before drinking and
alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks. The tagline is ‘Why let a
good night go bad?’

The campaign was prompted by Gordon Brown, at a summit in
Downing Street in November 2007, at which he challenged the industry to
do something about alcohol problems. The working title of the campaign
was ‘Project 10’.

The natural home for such a project is Drinkaware, an
industry-funded charity engaged in social marketing. However, Drinkaware
was in its infancy in 2007, so took no part in the development of
Project 10. Now, as the project comes to fruition, it will be taken
under the wing of the charity, with materials carrying Drinkaware
branding and being hosted on their website. Drinkaware trustees will
have the right to veto any part of the campaign, though it is thought
unlikely that they will do so. Although Drinkaware describes itself as
‘independent’, they are clearly happy to work closely with the alcohol
industry.

The campaign was announced as costing £100M over five
years. For comparison, the government’s Know Your Limits campaign is
reported to be costing £10M for one year and the alcohol industry
initially pledged £12M to Drinkaware over three years, though this did
not materialise and their core funding for that period is £5M.

We understand that the £20M per year is made up of £15M in
kind contributions, such as shelf space for point of sale materials,
and £5M-worth of media buy. However, the media buy is valued at the
nominal cost of advertising, whilst customers with strong bargaining
power, such as the drinks industry, are generally able to negotiate
advertising at a fraction of the nominal cost. Therefore the true
financial cost of this campaign will be very substantially lower than
the figure that was announced.

Although the campaign is not due to be launched until
September, it was announced in July, at which time a Health Select
Committee investigation into alcohol is in progress and a mandatory code
for retail promotions of alcohol is under consultation. Although the
government is committed to introducing the mandatory code, it is
rumoured that the Home Office is considering delaying its introduction,
in response to the announcement of the campaign. Both the Department of
Health and the Home Office are publicly supporting this industry led
campaign.

Whilst we remain sceptical of the drinks industry engaging
in social marketing, we are most concerned by the possibility that this
might influence government decisions about regulating that industry. A
considerable body of research shows that public education campaigns in
isolation have very little impact on alcohol consumption and harm,
though they may be valuable in conjunction with other policies such as
restrictions on availability and increases in price.

Whilst the mandatory code is relatively limited in scope,
it is an important step that must not be derailed by industry
campaigning.