Last month the company launched 'The choice is yours', an integrated campaign through Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO covering TV, print and outdoor. The ads show the effect that one very drunk person can have on others during a night out.
One execution features a girl lifting up her skirt then vomiting, while the other depicts a young man failing to get into a nightclub and becoming involved in a fight.
Diageo claims it took this approach because younger drinkers are less interested in the long-term health effects of drinking, such as liver damage, and more concerned with losing face. This is a very different approach from that taken by the hard-hitting Home Office work, which shows drunk young people in life-threatening situations.
The drinks company's stance is also at variance with the conclusions of a three-year study led by the University of Bath, which slammed its initiative as 'catastrophically misconceived' because it plays on the 'drinking stories' young people use to mark their social identity.
'Extreme inebriation is often seen as a source of personal esteem and social affirmation among young people,' said the university's Professor Christine Griffin. 'Not only does being in a friendship group legitimise being very drunk, being the subject of an extreme drinking story can raise esteem.'
The study concluded that national alcohol policy should be radically rethought to take into account the social character of drinking among young people.
A spokeswoman for Diageo responded by saying that the company is proud of its ads, claiming they are 'strategically sound, evidence-based and not designed to simply grab headlines'.
She added: 'Assessment of our previous responsible-drinking work, which explored the same themes, showed that 71% of people were much more likely to consider drinking responsibly once they had been exposed to the ads.'