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‘Binge & Purge – how to try and get people to please, please drink responsibly.’

26 November, 2014 - Source: The Gate

‘Everything in moderation – especially moderation.’ Appropriately, the origin of that battle cry for excess all areas is a little hazy. It’s like History woke up after a particularly big night out and thought ‘Why was that a good idea? Who was it in the pub that ordered the flaming sambuca’s while saying that witty line about moderation? Was it Oscar Wilde? Benjamin Franklin? That Roman poet guy Terence who we thought had come from a toga party?’

At which point History would no doubt have reached for the berocca, and made a solemn vow to never, ever, drink again. After all – that’s what we do isn’t it? We binge. Then we purge. Moderation is for the limp and the wimp. This is not to suggest in anyway that anyone involved in the marketing of alcoholic drinks is encouraging excess. Not at all. I have advertised some fine, delicious brands down the years, among them Brothers Cider, Bass, Amstel, Disaronno, Strongbow, and I’ve put the ‘Please drink responsibly’ message on them all; and meant it. But I’ve also worked on the other side of the fence, for Drinkaware, so I’m acutely aware that despite the industry’s best intentions, people often don’t drink responsibly, and ignore their calm, measured, message that drinking alcohol is completely fine – if done in moderation.

But moderation in all things (and incidentally it was Terence in his toga who said that, and Oscar Wilde who adapted it) appears to be becoming less and less prevalent or relevant in society. Which is bad news for anyone trying to communicate it – like Drinkaware. For no sooner have they got through the almighty alcoholic binge that is December, than they are now faced with the vigorous detoxification and irrigation purge that is January. Hugely successful and high profile campaigns such as Cancer Research’s Dryathlon (and less successful ones such as Alcohol Concern’s Dry January) garner far more paid, owned and earned media than Drinkaware’s consistent, and far more healthy (in the long term) advocacy of moderate drinking and achievable, manageable changes to peoples behaviour.

So what to do? We appear to be addicted to binge and purge across all sorts of sectors, but since we’ve been talking about alcohol so far, and as it’s Christmas, let me give you one idea on how the moderates might win in the face of extremism. Before diving in to this, a word on my friends at Drinkaware. They do brilliant, effective work. So much so that they were “identifed in the UK Government’s Alcohol Strategy as the lead organisation to deliver information about alcohol to the public”. What follows is simply a thought on how they might be able to make their message of moderation even more effective.

We know that the prevailing wisdom is that Drinkaware, or indeed any health related / responsible brand shouldn't do any marketing activity during that month because everyone is out at a party

Better to wait until January when the ‘New Year, New You’ state of mind takes hold across the UK.


But maybe December is the perfect time to do something.

For though there will be lots of parties, there will also be lots of hangovers.

With a hangover comes contrition and the desire to do something to ease the pain and make you feel a little better about yourself.

But given that it’s December, there’s always another party to go to – to catch up with old friends, or bond with work colleagues. So maybe the trick here is to acknowledge this, and get people to sign up to become more Drinkaware in 2015?

To get them to pledge to have a ‘Drinkaware January’? Based on our old friend behavioural economics, there is a lot of evidence that it has a good chance of being effective.

First of all we have two decision making states. Cold - super ego, rational. Hot - id, irrational, emotional.

December will see us, under the influence of alcohol, make a lot of 'hot' decisions. These may to be have another round of health battering drinks, or take drugs, or to try and have sexy time with someone. When consumers are in a hot state they are of no interest to Drinkaware or any other brand in the health lobby.

After every 'hot' night however, comes the 'cold' light of day. Where our rational self reasserts itself. Where we want to be good, and moral, and healthy. So does this mean that they will immediately download the app, or pledge to 'never drink again?'

Not in December. For though you might crawl back to your bed with your hangover, there'll be another drinks party or dinner coming up, and there's no way you're going to miss that. Which I guess is the argument for not doing anything in this month.


Behavioural economics tells us that procrastination is caused by this 'hot' temptation overcoming 'cold' intentions. So we give in to drinking at the next party because we tell ourselves that we'll be good tomorrow, or the day after that, or, if we’re really being honest, in January.

Research studies show however that the best way to defeat procrastination is not to set yourself harsh rigid deadlines, nor to have no deadline at all. Rather it is to put in place a 'middle way' which is a self imposed, realistic deadline.

So could we exploit the high incidence of 'cold' state hangovers in December by offering people the opportunity to start being 'drinkaware' in January? We acknowledge that December is party time, and we don't try and set people harsh deadlines or conditions, because we know that they will simply become 'hot' and fall into drinking again. We also acknowledge our propensity to procrastinate, and tackle that through what appears to be a realistic, manageable goal - start in January.

This enables people, when they are feeling bad about themselves, to feel better through simply signing up, making a pledge to have a ‘Drinkaware January’, and believing that even in so doing they are embarked on a process toward a healthier lifestyle. Then when the 'new beginnning' mentality of January kicks in, we are able to contact them, and get them started on the Drinkaware January programme.

In so doing, we might, just might, save them from the false dawn of ‘giving up’ for January, and thinking that having a month off means that if they treat their body like a temple for four weeks, then they can use it as an adventure playground for the rest of the year. It’s a moderate approach that is unlikely to grab any headlines – until it is wildly successful after a few months when people find that the calm, ‘cold’, considered changes that they have made are sustainable and have resulted in them looking and feeling better than ever before; in making them the healthy, wealthy and wise of nursery rhyme lore. For that’s the real, long term, brand benefit of moderation – over time, in the long run, it delivers.

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