`Drink responsibly´ communication campaigns: A perfect cocktail of brand promotion and social responsibility

Simone Massaro

Student thesis: Master thesis


Recently, beer companies are employing increasingly more 'drink responsibly' communication campaigns to underline their commitment in discouraging the misuse of their products. However, public health advocates are sceptic and claim that these CSR practices are deliberately 'ambiguous' and therefore do not convey any valuable 'responsibility' message nor produce any change in drinking habits, serving instead uniquely the purposes of enhancing corporate image and promoting product consumption. The debate is controversial and still unsolved even because, while there is a significant body of literature about the effects of alcohol marketing, studies that specifically focus on 'moderation' advertisements sponsored by the industry itself are limited. In this context, moving from the existing body of literature on the topic, the present research tries to fill this cognitive gap with an analysis of industry-sponsored 'moderation' campaigns, focusing especially on the evaluations and interpretations that consumers give to these messages. The research develops the general guidelines indicated by recent studies on the subject with an empirical analysis: in order not to be too much general, an experiment has been conducted to study the effects and interpretations related to an industry-sponsored 'drink responsibly' campaign, that has been subsequently confronted with the responses derived from an analogous message promoted by a governmental organization (PSA – Public Service Announcement). The aim of the study is therefore to understand how consumers interpret these campaigns in terms of message content and sponsors' motivations and to investigate what are the main effects of the perceived messages, from both a public health and a corporate point of view. With regards to the first issue, it was hypothesized that the industry-sponsored message would result to be constructed more „ambiguously‟ than the corresponding PSA, with the strategic inclusion of both „responsibility‟ messages and „pro-drinking‟ elements. The results actually confirmed this hypothesis: in fact, whereas the PSA employed as stimulus for the research was found to convey almost exclusively messages of moderation and responsibility, the „similar‟ industry-sponsored campaign was perceived to be more „ambiguous‟, with the inclusion of „positive alcohol expectancies‟ and pro-drinking elements, which in some cases even stimulated consumers‟ intentions to drink beer. Also, it was found that consumers who used to drink more and who were more likely to be engaged in excessive drinking behaviour noticed the pro-drinking aspects of the industry-sponsored advertisement to a greater extent in comparison with those who already had „moderate‟ drinking habits. For what concerns consumers‟ evaluations of the industry‟s motives for producing this kind of „socially responsible‟ advertising, the research showed that respondents infer a multiplicity of purposes behind these campaigns, with the simultaneous perception of both intrinsic reasons (that is, the pro-social objectives of promoting awareness about alcohol-related problems and discouraging the misuse of alcoholic beverages) and extrinsic motives (the self-serving efforts in public relations and in the promotion of brand image and product consumption). In any case, even in presence of consumers‟ perceptions of opportunistic motivations on the part of the sponsoring firm, hardly any negative outcome has been found in terms of consumers‟ attitudes towards the sponsor and in their purchasing intentions. Finally, as regards the effects of the two campaigns (and the differences in the effects between them), this study underlines that industry-sponsored „moderation‟ campaigns are not sufficiently effective in actually promoting awareness about alcohol-related problems and in discouraging dangerous drinking behaviours. On the contrary, they often stimulate viewer‟s intentions to drink alcoholic beverages and therefore, from a public-health point of view, they should be reformulated without the inclusion of pro-drinking elements. On the other side, from a corporate point of view, these campaigns resulted to be useful tools for simultaneously achieving different goals: in fact, promoting responsibility and simultaneously inserting positive portrayals of product consumption, beer companies are able to pursue the objective of being perceived as „socially responsible‟ without at the same time truly undermining most forms of beer consumption, lending instead a positive light on the industry, augmenting brand awareness and enhancing corporate image.

EducationsCand.merc.smc Strategic Market Creation, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages81