This news feature looking at ‘Diageo to launch careful drinking campaign’ was in the Irish Examiner in February.
Diageo, the country’s largest drinks company and owner of Guinness, is to pour millions into a public awareness campaign aimed at preventing excessive drinking.
However, the Stop Out-Of-Control Drinking initative has brought accusations that the company is using a public health concern for PR purposes.
Campaign chairman Fergus Finlay, the chief executive of Barnardos, has also been forced to defend his decision to accept the drinks company’s approach to be chair and to use its money.
He said he and the other board members, who include health professionals, had taken a lot of convincing that Diageo’s claims to want to be part of the solution to problem drinking were genuine. He said he had an undertaking that the company would not try to influence campaign activities.
“It will be up to people to make up their own minds whether the campaign is honest and truthful,” he said. “Get involved, suspend judgment, and if you think it’s spin, walk away.”
The campaign is beginning with a series of advertisements plus meetings for the public and for experts and professionals which will take place in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway throughout March.
An action plan based on feedback from those meetings will be published in the summer and the aim is make out-of-control drinking socially unacceptable by 2021.
David Smith, head of Diageo in Ireland and a member of the campaign board, said no limit had been put on the company’s financial commitment to the campaign which he estimates will spend €1m by the summer.
That figure is only a fraction of the company’s annual marketing spend in Ireland. It spends €10m on outdoor billboard campaigns alone and more on other forms of advertsing and sponsorship deals.
Mr Smith claimed, however, that the industry’s initiative, drinkaware.ie, was having an effect on attitudes towards excessive drinking and Diageo wanted to do more.
“I’m the father of two boys aged 12 and five so I’m concerned about alcohol misuse,” he said. “I want them to grow up in a society that does not encourage them to drink to excess. I would love it to be totally uncool to get drunk.”
However, senator Jillian Van Turnhout, former head of the Children’s Rights Alliance and an outspoken critic of marketing tactics in the alcohol industry, accused Diageo of trying to “dilute” the issue.
She described the campaign as “a narrative designed by the drinks industry”. “Alcohol related harm is a public health issue not a PR exercise,” she said.
Ruairi McKiernan, the founder of youth organisation SpunOut.ie, also objected to Diageo’s involvement. “It strikes me as Shell being involved with the environmental movement — a drinks industry version of greenwashing,” he said.
Alcohol Action Ireland, the charity dedicated to tackling alcohol misuse, was not asked to become involved. A spokesperson said only strict laws on alcohol pricing, availability, and marketing would change drinking habits and the drinks industry was opposed to these
Mr Finlay offered to address concerns and plans are being made for him to meet with the All-Party Oireachtas Group on Alcohol Misuse.
The campaign is backed by celebrities such as Una Foden, Kian Egan, and Ardal O’Hanlon, as well as health professionals including TV GP Ciara Kelly. Details are on www.rolemodels.ie.
This was also covered by Breaking News Ireland where they reported that social campaigner and founder of youth website spunout.ie, Ruairi McKiernan, is not convinced.
“What we’re saying is a new tactic from the drinks industry to try and subvert national consciousness to bring on board the expertise the skills and the credibility of the youth and community sector – including Fergus Finlay, who many people respect, and rightfully so.
“It’s a feel-good offensive and it can’t work,” he said.
What do you think? My thoughts? Why weren’t Alcohol Action Ireland not asked to be involved if they were serious about this campaign?