Alcohol industry attempts to put its house in order

LONDON - Is a £100m 'Smarter Drinking' push merely an attempt to stave off legislation

Alcohol producers, retailers and drinks trade bodies last week gave the public
a first taste of their £100m five-year responsible-drinking drive.

The Campaign for Smarter Drinking social marketing push, aimed at curbing binge drinking in young adults, is the result of the Project 10 initiative. This was formed last year following high-level meetings hosted by the prime minister between retailers, alcohol firms and media owners.

The activity, which is run through industry-funded charity Drinkaware, certainly looks impressive. However, critics claim that it is nothing more than a ploy to avoid more stringent government intervention.

Nonetheless, the campaign is backed by 46 companies including Molson Coors, Diageo and Tesco. Other backers include the Advertising Association, outdoor media owner JCDecaux and the British Retail Consortium. Simon Davies, marketing director of Molson Coors, and his counterpart at Diageo GB, Philip Almond, were the lead marketers on the project.

It will use outdoor and on-pack advertising created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, as well as beer mats in pubs and bars, and point-of-sale displays in retailers, to deliver its message with the strapline ‘Why let good times go bad?'

The outdoor part of the campaign will be rolled out on 10,000 telephone kiosks from 31 August. According to Davies, this is the most effective medium for reaching its target market of 18- to 34-year-olds.

This will coincide with the appearance of the messaging on the neck collars of spirits bottles and on the outer packaging of packs of beer.

The campaign will emphasise the benefits of enjoying alcohol responsibly and remind consumers to ensure they also drink water or soft drinks, eat food and plan to get home safely.

Whether the push will stand out is debatable as it will join a plethora of other activity aimed at curbing alcohol abuse. The government spent £10m last year on its ‘Know your limits' campaign and Diageo runs ads in a similar vein. Indeed, the need for the latest activity has been called into question by Sainsbury's, one of the biggest brands not to be involved.

Its commitment to responsible drinking is as robust as any of
its rivals; the supermarket has supported Drinkaware, and was the first to introduce a ‘Think-25' policy, requiring staff to ask for ID from customers who look under 25 trying to buy alcohol. It also chairs the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, an industry body dedicated to promoting the responsible selling of alcohol.

Don Shenker, chief executive of lobbying group Alcohol Concern, labels the drive ‘yet another example of the drinks industry trying desperately to avoid mandatory legislation'.

‘We've seen this before from industry,' he says. ‘There was a big fanfare when Drinkaware was launched but the money never materialised.'

He adds that its budget has been calculated at ratecard and through in-kind payments. As a result, he claims, it will not be as extensive as it sounds.

A source close to the Project 10 negotiations agrees that the purpose of the campaign is to avoid a mandatory code of practice, on which the government is currently consulting. ‘The industry has been told by government that if you cough up, we won't introduce it,' says the source.

A letter from health secretary Andy Burnham to the Campaign for Smarter Drinking's director, Richard Evans, appears to back this up. In it the minister acknowledges that ‘any new mandatory messaging requirement for these media could potentially conflict with Project 10 messages and therefore potentially confuse consumers'.

There are questions over the motivation of those involved in the drive and whether it will add any value. However, it is still one of the biggest campaigns of its kind and its ultimate impact will be measured over years not months.

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