Let's be seen doing the right thing, not just claiming to
David Cox, former managing director of Brown-Forman Wines, Europe, sets out his vision for the drinks industry's role in marketing responsible drinking
27 August, 2008
The other day I was asked by an organisation called Alcohol in Moderation (AIM) to speak at an industry forum where AIM posed this question to speakers: "Can you develop product innovation, market creatively and increase sales in a responsible manner?"
An interesting topic and, given the number of column inches in the media these days about the significant effects of alcohol misuse, a topical one, too. The forum gave our industry an opportunity to debate whether there was any potential incompatibility between marketing drinks brands responsibly while still growing volumes and building businesses.
As I prepared my presentation I realised that the words "social responsibility", herewith shortened to SR, are oft spouted by CEOs and senior executives of the major drinks companies. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a published statement on a corporate website or in an annual report that didn't pontificate about the company's commitment to marketing their brands responsibly. That said, do some quick research on well-known corporate websites, and you'll find a few that don't.
So if you posed that question asked by AIM to those at the top of their organisations, the immediate response would be, "but of course".
Then I started to wonder how that message of SR was being 'pushed down' within companies.
Certainly, these days, major alcohol beverage companies have codes of conduct and adopt "dos and don'ts" for their marketing staff regarding responsible marketing.
Many of them, including my own former company, Brown-Forman, also invest significantly to help and support organisations such as the Drinkaware Trust, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), plus groups devoted to promoting responsible consumption such the Portman Group, the Century Council and the European Fund for Responsible Drinking (EFRD).
However, is this sentiment and commitment adopted by all the staff in drinks companies? I am thinking of medium-sized and smaller agency or distribution companies that still market and sell a huge volume of wines, spirits, beers and ciders.
The brand managers and marketing folk certainly know what to put and what not to put on their ads or POS material, but are they just ticking the responsibility box?
And what of sales teams, brand ambassadors, account managers and customer service people? Do internal communications within such companies ensure that everyone is on-message'?
I am not so sure, and it's here that some say there might be an inherent tension between meeting sales targets and fulfilling SR.
We must never forget that our primary concern is building brands and creating consumer choice. As a result, some say that we should all be going much further than just responsible marketing. I agree.
A step change is required where we go from responsible drinks marketing to actively marketing responsible drinking in the entire brand messaging that we send out when selling and marketing our alcohol brands.
This can be summed up by saying that we must move from asking, "what can I get away with?" to, "how can I make a difference?"
This is key because consumers are changing. Just as we have seen consumers adopt a more ethical and environmentally-aware approach to purchasing, opting for Fairtrade, organic and free-range goods, we will also start to see them appreciating and supporting
brand-owners who take an active stand on responsible consumption.
The payoff should be that such consumers become loyal to companies and brands that really seek to make a difference and try to help bring about a behavioural change in society to tackle the negative impact of alcohol abuse.
Without sounding glib, such a change in the way people behave is vital if we, as an industry, are to help the government, NGOs and society in general.
This sort of transformation in attitudes to alcohol consumption will only occur if all of us, at every level of our organisations, start to embrace the concept of marketing responsible drinking, as opposed to just responsible drinks marketing. The distinction may be fine, but is heavily significant.
This approach must be hard-wired into the corporate DNA, ethos and mission statements of companies, so that we are able to move from a culture of "box ticking" to active involvement in "being responsible in everything we do".
----=== Cox quits after 13 years ===David Cox is leaving Brown-Forman after 13 years, latterly as managing director - Europe for Brown-Forman Wines.
Cox's departure is a result of a restructuring which will see the marketing of wine brands such as Fetzer and Bonterra, centralised to B-F head office in Louisville, Kentucky.
Operational control of B-F's European wine business, with the exception of the UK, is being merged into the spirits operation.