Jones, S. C, Hall, S. & Kypri, K. (2017). Should I drink responsibly, safely or properly? Confusing messages about reducing alcohol-related harm. PLoS One,12(9), 1-14. United States of America: Public Library of Science (PLoS). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184705
‘Responsible drinking’ campaigns emerged in the early 1970s as a means of addressing hazardous drinking and its related consequences. While these were initially the product of public health agencies and health-related NGOs, they are increasingly being developed and disseminated by the alcohol industry. There is considerable debate as to whether industry-generated campaigns are designed to reduce hazardous drinking and related problems (as argued by their developers) or are designed to avoid government regulation or even to increase sales. The aim of the present study was to explore the way that recent industry-developed responsible drinking campaigns are perceived and interpreted by the general public. That is, do they promote low-risk drinking, promote risky drinking, or just muddy the waters. Two sub-studies were conducted. The first, a mall intercept study with 180 adults in two Australian shopping districts, explored participants’ understanding of slogans/taglines. The second, an online survey with 480 Australian adults, explored understandings and interpretations of television/online commercials. The results of the two studies revealed diversity in participants’ interpretation of the ‘responsible drinking’ advertisements. Terminology utilised in industry-developed advertisements was found to be ambiguous; for example, what age group was being referred to in the tagline ‘Kids and alcohol don’t mix’, and whether ‘Drink Properly’ meant not drinking to excess or drinking in a way that made you look more sophisticated. In Study Two, the government-developed campaign (‘Know when to say when’) was clearly interpreted as warning against risky consumption of alcohol; whereas the industry-developed campaigns (‘How to drink properly’, ‘Kids absorb your drinking’, ‘Friends are waiting’) were interpreted to have a range of different meanings, including some seemingly unrelated to alcohol. These findings are consistent with the literature evaluating anti-smoking campaigns developed by the tobacco industry, and previous research showing that industry communications serve to soften public opinion and create the impression of a ‘socially responsible’ industry but are likely to be less effective than initiatives focused on the availability and promotion of alcohol.
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