Let’s drink to our world cup chances – but not too much

Here we are again. The bunting is up, the media coverage is reaching the point of hysteria and the supermarkets’ shelves are stacked with themed items. People like me who are football mad can’t wait for the World Cup to begin. Others think it’

Drinks companies are jumping on the World Cup bandwagon, but the way in which they promote their products during the tournament could have a big impact on how people view the industry’s commitment to responsible drinking, says Jean Coussins

Here we are again. The bunting is up, the media coverage is reaching the point of hysteria and the supermarkets’ shelves are stacked with themed items. People like me who are football mad can’t wait for the World Cup to begin. Others think it’s just an excuse for a drinking bonanza and will look for any opportunity to point the finger at the drinks industry for encouraging mayhem.

Pubs, bars, supermarkets and off-licences up and down the country will of course be using the World Cup as a welcome opportunity to increase brand awareness and generate increased sales. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.

The difficult part is doing it in a responsible way. How can businesses whose purpose is to produce and sell alcohol make the most of a major sporting event like this without spoiling everyone’s fun or demonising the industry?

Social responsibility and having a good time are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, a strategic approach should reap long-term benefits for the drinks industry and for society as a whole. Two years ago the Government produced an alcohol harm reduction strategy, which pushed corporate responsibility high up the agenda for the drinks industry. We need to build systematically on the many successful but often patchy initiatives taken already by Portman Group members and others to encourage responsible drinking and increase consumer understanding of the effects of alcohol, both good and bad.

Online information

One important tool has emerged in the form of drinkaware.co.uk – a consumer website that contains information on alcohol units and how alcohol consumption relates to different lifestyles, as well as a calculator showing the unit value of individual brands and serving sizes. More and more companies that produce and sell alcoholic drinks are now promoting the website through their advertising, packaging, brand websites and other media. The website address will appear on 3 billion product containers this year, on &£150m worth of above-the-line advertising and on point-of-purchase materials in thousands of pubs and supermarkets. The website now receives an average of 50,000 hits a day.

The tone and style of promotions and sponsorships are critical. This year’s World Cup won’t be the first time retailers in the on- and off-trade have gone to town. The difference this time is that we have a new licensing regime and the spotlight could fall heavily upon retailers to see how aggressively they market alcohol, as well as how they deal with drunkenness and underage sales.

Millions of extra pints

While there is no credible evidence that sponsorship influences either young people’s attitudes to alcohol or consumption levels, figures from the British Beer & Pub Association predict that on June 20 when England plays Sweden, 9 million extra pints of beer will be sold and 6 million extra World Cup viewers will be in the pub for that particular match. The last World Cup in 2002 resulted in an extra 35 million pints of beer being sold.

Apart from the pub, most people will be watching the matches at home or in public spaces, such as town squares where drinking controls may be in force. The police and the Home Office have been running enforcement campaigns for some time, trying to tackle irresponsible retail practice – and with some success. The Portman Group is encouraging its members to run banner ads and training programmes. Furthermore, Challenge 21 Proof of Age posters have been appearing gradually in retail outlets (on- and off-trade) for several weeks, promoting the drinkaware.co.uk website, amongst other initiatives.

But just as “don’t drink and drive” should not be a message only for Christmas, neither should the “drink responsibly” message be just for short high-profile publicity stunts that centre around the World Cup. It’s a long-term challenge and the industry as well as the Government must be in it for the long haul.

In the meantime, we must strike the right balance during the World Cup between the legitimate exploitation of a business opportunity and the overwhelming business case for social responsibility.

As for the football itself, let’s hope we’ll be raising a glass to celebrate rather than to drown our sorrows.

Many drinks retailers, brewers and other organisations have signed up with drinkaware.co.uk to promote responsible drinking and carry the address on their packaging or other branding materials.

Among the 89 backers of the initiative are industry bodies including the British Beer and Pub Association and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Brewers including Carlsberg UK, Diageo GB, InBev UK are involved, along with major retailers like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Thresher Group.

Pub chains including JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells & Butlers have pledged their support as have other bodies, including regional police and fire services.

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