Drinks producers and brands are moving away from negative messages about responsible drinking by mixing up how and when to deliver key information about the misuse of alcohol.
Last month, the government issued new guidelines for alcohol consumption, which bring down the recommended limit for men to 14 units per week (equivalent to six pints), making it the same as the maximum limit for women.
The move has put pressure on alcohol brands to rethink how they promote safe drinking and alter the ‘please drink responsibly’ message required by law on all packaging and marketing material to ensure the message resonates with consumers.
Heineken calls for moderation in its campaign released in January; AB InBev is shifting focus to low and alcohol-free options in the UK; Diageo has revamped its DrinkIQ responsible drinking website; and Pernod Ricard is extending its initiative with students to promote responsible drinking to peers.
Harnessing positive messages
“People relate more to positive messages [simply because] there are so many negative messages out there,” says Alexandre Ricard, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard, which produces brands such as Jameson and Absolut Vodka. “People today want to hear the positive facts. The more positive we are about [responsible drinking], the more chance we have at succeeding [in changing people’s attitudes].”
Instead of concentrating too much on messages such as ‘Don’t drink and drive’, which focus on the negative implications of alcohol consumption, Ricard says consumers are more likely to respond to positive lines that suggest things will be better if people drink responsibly.
Ricard believes this kind of approach could also be used to help tackle issues such as obesity. “Rather than telling people not to eat meat, for example, brands should encourage people to eat meat as part of a balanced diet,” he says.
On its DrinkIQ website, Diageo provides nutritional information for its brands, including Guinness and Smirnoff, as well as a drinks calculator to help consumers work out how much alcohol they are drinking and how many calories it contains.
Diageo carried out market research ahead of revamping the site to find out how consumers would like to receive this type of information. “People don’t want to be told what to do or be given negative messages,” says Mark Baird, head of alcohol in society for Diageo GB. “The way we talk to consumers, the voice we [use] and who actually gives the message is becoming increasingly important.”
Last month, Pernod Ricard and Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which assists exchange students in more than 37 European countries, renewed its ‘Responsible Party’ partnership. Under the initiative, which has reached 250,000 students since being launched in 2010, the two organisations jointly organise events during which student ambassadors explain to their peers why responsible consumption is important.
The company believes this peer-to-peer approach is key to achieving success in the fight against alcohol abuse. Ricard says the students involved have “come up with messages that are more effective” than those the company could have created because young people “know their own language” and know what will resonate with their peers.
At a debate in Brussels in January, Pernod Ricard gathered key student ambassadors from the Responsible Party initiative to answer questions about what steps it is taking to promote responsible drinking. Christian Porta, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard EMEA, who was on the panel, said: “[Students] are the ambassadors; we are supporting [them] and it’s more powerful for us if [they] advertise it.”
Of course, regulators must set guidelines and pass legislation but Aileen Keyes, head of alcohol in society for Diageo in Europe, claims “consumers are more inclined to listen to what they hear from brands than what they hear from regulators”.
She adds: “We have local expertise about how you get information out to consumers. We can utilise that to the best effect when it comes to encouraging moderate drinking and [providing] information about the products that we make.”
As part of its sponsorship of the McLaren Mercedes Formula One team, Diageo brought drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to London to promote anti drink-driving initiatives to the public.
Baird at Diageo GB says: “Jenson Button asking people not to drink and drive [is] more powerful than regulators or politicians because he has a high degree of credibility and a lot of fans around the world.”
Brands’ role in society
Although it might seem counter-productive for alcohol producers to try to curb consumers’ drinking, brands are increasingly realising the role they must play in society.
Government statistics show that 77% of adults drink within the new low-risk guidelines, with 68% of men and 85% of women consuming 14 units or fewer each week. Binge drinking has fallen by 20% since 2007, while hospital admissions related to alcohol among under-18s have fallen by 41% in the past six years, according to the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England, respectively.
“Effective self-regulation and innovative responsibility campaigns are part of a wide range of measures led by the industry that are helping produce the significant falls in alcohol-related harms in the UK,” says Henry Ashworth, CEO at the Portman Group. The body was created by UK alcohol producers to promote responsible drinking and prevent alcohol abuse.
Ashworth says “companies with long-term visions understand their responsibilities to consumers and prioritise delivering social value alongside growth”, which is evident in the campaigns that exist today.
Ricard believes Pernod Ricard is “part of the solution, not the problem”, since the business “fully recognises that the abuse of alcohol is bad for society and for [its] business long term”.
Pernod Ricard’s Porta adds that this approach does not have a negative effect on sales. He says: “What we don’t want is excessive consumption of alcohol – particularly of our drinks. If everyone in our target group was to drink two units of alcohol per day, as per the official guidelines, there will be no problem for our overall volume.”
For Pernod Ricard and Diageo, as well as other alcohol brands tapping into the trend towards proactive moderation messages, responsible drinking is about connecting with the consumer through positive marketing and guiding people towards enjoyment rather than talking about negatives.