Vague, indeterminate and ubiquitous, the “Drink Responsibly” message featured in alcohol advertisements fails to explicate the details of safe drinking, instead promoting consumer loyalty to brands associated with such slogans.
Recently published in the September 2014 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a study led by Katherine Clegg Smith, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, analyzed alcohol advertisements in U.S. magazines from 2008 to 2010. It was discovered that 87 percent of the alcohol advertisements bearing the “Drink Responsibly” message did not define the limits or the circumstances of safe drinking. Moreover, 95 percent of the time these responsibility messages were shown in miniscule font and accompanied by images promoting the advertised product.
In a similar May 2012 investigation, Alcohol Justice, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that describes itself as the alcohol industry watchdog, examined “Drink Responsibly” messages in alcohol advertisements showcased in September and October 2011 issues of 41 magazines. The organization found that the responsibility messages were not only printed in diminutive font and placed along the edges so as to render them nearly invisible but also in some cases utilized in along with drinking commands and alcohol brand names.
Words such as “drink,” “party” and “celebrate” usually precede the term “responsibly.” Some messages incorporate alcohol brand names, as in “Enjoy Heineken responsibly” and “Belvedere is a quality choice. Drinking responsibly is too.” Several large alcohol companies were found to have trademarked their own “Drink Responsibly” logos in an effort to most likely increase sales, promote brand preference and deflect blame onto consumers.
By incorporating the “Drink Responsibly” message, the alcohol industry seeks to excuse itself from the alcohol-related harm that results from heavy and even moderate drinking. As alcohol is associated with violence, crime, sexual assault and other high-risk behavior, the use of “Drink Responsibly” messages to any way enhance the credibility of major alcohol companies is a cause for concern.
In the news release from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Smith suggests that an alternative for the current responsible drinking promotions would consist of tested warning messages prominently placed in advertisements.
The publication by Alcohol Justice, in contrast, suggests that no such “Drink Responsibly” disclaimers should be included in alcohol advertising, as even if the messages were printed in larger fonts and placed in more visible locations, the alcohol industry would still be able to claim their advertisements as disseminating public health information. Instead, according to the publication by Alcohol Justice, state attorneys general should examine the potential deceptive advertising by alcohol companies.
Regardless of the measures that might be taken to address this marketing issue, the “Drink Responsibly” message included in the majority of alcohol advertisements poses a public health problem in its inefficiency in delineating safe drinking and its use in brand campaigns.