Will placing alcohol units on glassware make people drink less?

In an industry first, Guinness is to display alcohol unit information on 500,000 of its glasses. Marketing asks members of the Marketing Society if such an initiative have a tangible effect on the way that people consume their alcohol?


Philip Almond, Marketing director, Diageo GB 

We hope that by placing the alcohol unit indicator on the Guinness 250th anniversary glassware, it will increase people's awareness of units and knowledge of what they are drinking. There are lots of ways that people can find out about units, this is only one. We believe, though, that it will help people in pubs and bars to know instantly how many units are in their pint of Guinness.

Of course, we know that not all alcohol is served in bespoke glasses, as Guinness is. However, if the glasses do prove effective, it would be good to see the practice becoming widespread.

Getting people who misuse alcohol to drink sensibly is a complex issue and one that will not be solved overnight.

It is too simplistic to say that placing unit indicators on glassware will achieve this by itself.

However, we remain committed to giving people all the information about alcohol that we can and this is one innovative way which may help people to drink more conscientiously.


Jane Asscher, Managing partner, 23red

It is a good start by Guinness, and a challenge to the rest of the industry. It will certainly make drinkers take note, but it is only one part of the strategy needed to address binge drinking.

There is widespread consumer confusion over government unit guidelines, and drinks vary in serving size and alcohol by volume. If people do not make the link between binge drinking and liver disease, the initiative fails.

We must also consider the immediate and long-term effects of excessive drinking, and how they can be woven into a wider communication strategy. 

Marketers and alcohol manufacturers should work with the government to raise the awareness of the risks to immediate and long-term health.

We can encourage responsible drinking by delivering innovative interventions, low-alcohol and non-alcoholic options, and by monitoring excessive price promotions. However, these must sit in the wider context of a social marketing campaign.


Jamie Lister, Director, Drink Works

Now that unit measures on glasses have made their debut, the forces of self-regulation are likely to appropriate branded glassware as a new medium. As alcohol awareness increases, I think the question is not 'Will we drink less?', but 'How will we drink fewer units?'

As a nation we like drinking. For most of us, drinking (not the same as drunkenness) is hardwired into our social framework. So it will be easier and more fun to keep our drinking occasions and seek out lower-alcohol drinks. Not distress-purchase compromises, but rewarding brands that happen to have less alcohol.

This puts lager in an awkward position. Only InBev, with Beck's Vier and Stella 4, has started to undo 30 years of 'stronger is better'. Better placed is ale, where premium brands such as Marston's Pedigree provide more taste with fewer units. Then there is Guinness: rewarding, premium and only 2.3 units. The real winner, however, will be spirits - a surprise to everyone at only 1 unit per measure.


James Clifton, Client managing partner, Balloon Dog

Some alcoholic beverages are 'session' drinks and so, sadly, are designed to be consumed in large volumes. These are the staple of a hedonistic night out and I am afraid a unit measure on the glass will have little to no effect. Indeed, it might even become a badge of honour. Ten pints and a curry could become 30 units and a KFC.

However, certain drinks are developed to appeal to more discerning drinkers. Alcohol unit warnings for these may have an impact, because volume is a more conscious decision.

Alcohol units are a measure of how much you have drunk, but people still have no clue as to how to calculate them. It used to be one drink is one pint. Now one drink is one pint, which is 3.4 units; how many units can I have before it is illegal to drive?

So there is a need for awareness and, indeed, a responsibility to put units on glasses, but as to whether it will make people drink less - it depends upon the person and the drink.



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