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Reinventing nightlife

Tips for nightlife industry professionals

What is Drinkaware and how effective is it at influencing alcohol related consumer behaviour?

Drinkaware is an independent organisation in the UK that is aimed at providing consumers with the right information to make informed decisions about how much, how often and what alcohol they drink with the ultimate aim of changing people’s drinking habits for the better.

A recent report reviewing their activities over the last five years showed that although there is plenty of room for improvement Drinkaware is a vital organisation in the UK and swift action is needed to secure its funding for the future.

What is Drinkaware?

Whilst it is all very well going out, having a few drinks, a boogie and quite possibly waking up with a hangover that will render you to curl up into a little ball and watch endless repeats of the Big Bang Theory, drinking responsibly is not only a good idea for party goers, it’s also a moral (and legal) obligation of venues to ensure safe and responsible drinking practice on their premises.

drinkaware_co_uk_gateme_02

In the UK an organisation was set up in 2007 after an agreement between the UK government, the drinks industry and the public health community. “Drinkaware” as it became known had one sole aim which was to change people’s drinking habits for the better by providing them with information to make informed decisions about how much, how often and what alcohol they drink.

A noble cause, surely? Well yes clearly, but it has not been all plain sailing, and after encountering stormy waters, some critics argued it was time to hoist in those metaphorical sails and head to port (or should I say harbour as a port related pun here may seem inappropriate…oops too late).

In April of this year (2013) Drinkaware released an independent review chaired by none other than Sir Hugh Taylor the former permanent secretary of the Department of Health. This report reviewed the previous five years (2006-2012) and this article provides a critique and commentary of that review and also highlights some of its key points.

Firstly it should be noted quickly that although many people think that Drinkaware has legislative scope and this is untrue and in fact Drinkaware can only influence consumers. They are not able to lobby the government or the drinks industry.

So two themes emerged in the report, firstly funding and secondly actions.

Funding

With regards to funding, the fact that £5m comes directly from the drinks industry with a further £20m indirectly has led to pockets of scepticism regarding the true nature of Drinkaware’s independance. To state the obvious here, Drinkaware wants people to drink less and the drinks industry want them to drink more. So yes it could be argued that on the one hand the drinks industry should be the ones helping consumers look after themselves and on the other hand they could they try to influence Drinkaware’s agenda and steer it in a direction that will not impact sales and thus potentially hamper profits.

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So with the current funding arrangement running out in December 2013 there is a sense of urgency to resolve this issue and although its not ideal for the funding to come from the drinks industry this is currently the best (and realistically only option).

Actions

There are three campaign areas in place at Drinkaware. In no particular order, increasing risk adult drinkers (25-44 years old), 18-24s challenging the acceptability of drunkenness, and parents and young people where the objective is to delay the age of a child’s first drink.

drinkaware_co_uk_gateme_03

This post will concentrate mainly on 18-24 year olds as this includes the topic of “going out” and “clubbing” which is of significant relevance to us.

From 2009-2012, a Drinkaware survey showed that less 18-24 year olds are now saying they have to get drunk to have a good time (down 5% from 78%) and less are drinking to get drunk every or most times they drink (down 3% from 19%). We feel this is a step in the right direction, but it’s fair to say that it’s not a fundamental change in attitude.

Derek Lewis, Chairman of Drinkaware aptly notes that [alcohol related consumer behaviour] is “an area of education and behaviour change that is notoriously difficult”. Perhaps it puts these “small” changes into some sort of context and therefore on balance these changes could be perceived as significant?

Tips and advice have also formed part of the strategy for 18-24 year olds such as advising them to “pace themselves”, “eat before drinking” and “have soft drinks as an alternative to alcohol”. All sensible stuff one might say and the majority do abide by the first two points but only 20% in 2012 choose the “less drinks” option and the reasons for this are unclear.

It would be really interesting for Drinkaware to really drill down into this point and find out why they 18-24 year olds aren’t prepared to drink less. It could also be useful for nightlife venues to help them make positive decisions on how to encourage responsible drinking practices on their premises. For example how might a nightlife venue encourage someone to have a soft drink and what factors influence consumers into making such a choice?

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Cost-effectiveness is crucial as well. With a limited annual budget and only £1,021,000 purposely set aside for 18-24 year olds each year finding an effective solution is only half the problem. Perhaps as the report suggests working out the cost to change one person’s behaviour could help Drinkaware work out the most cost-effective way to change a larger proportion of the population’s behaviour.

The report also suggested that Drinkaware doesn’t make the best use of it’s experts and more advice should be sought from the Medical Advisory Panel who should make a broader strategic contribution. It seems reasonable to suggest that doing this could really have a positive impact by combining the collective expert knowledge from a range of fields and using it to help make key decisions on issues such as what Drinkaware should focus its resources on.

Elaine Hindal, Chief Executive of Drinkaware said in April of this year (2013) that “actions to address more than two-thirds of [the development areas] are already underway.” This is clearly a positive sign and suggests that Drinkaware is ready to listen and open to change.

Summary

In conclusion it seems reasonable to say that although Drinkaware might not have all the answers and is not as efficient as it could be as long as they follow up on the findings in the report they can make positive changes that will help make them more successful in achieving their mission.

And it’s undeniable that their mission to change people’s drinking habits for the better is vital and it would, therefore, be a huge travesty to see Drinkaware fade away or even diminish. Therefore it’s essential that funding is secured so that Drinkaware may continue to make a positive impact on people’s drinking habits.

drinkaware_co_uk_gateme_05

Notes:

The Drinkaware website can be found at https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/. It has loads of advice and tips about alcohol related issues.

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Janar Merilo

CEO & Co-founder of GateMe. Technology-guru. Kitesurfing and nightlife fan.

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