Drink responsibly. That’s the advice of alcoholic beverage companies to their consumers, and their audience is wide. For most adults in the United States, alcohol consumption is a normal part of life playing an important role in both celebrations and relaxation. Ringold states that about “two-thirds of the American public ‘has occasion to use alcoholic beverages’ and that this has been the case since the Gallup Organization first began tracking alcohol consumption in 1939’” (Ringold, 2008). But just because alcohol consumption is prevalent, doesn’t mean it is without risk. On the contrary, Casswell says “an estimated 3.8% of all global deaths and 4-6% of global disability adjusted life-years are attributable to alcohol” (Casswell, 2012.) Alcohol consumption can be harmful both physically and socially as it “contributes to cardiovascular disease and cancers, but also to injury and mental health and, importantly, has significant impact beyond the drinker to those in the family and workplace” (Casswell, 2012.)
Major alcoholic beverage company websites have responsible drinking tabs to select, printed advertisements have the “Drink Responsibly” slogan somewhere on the page, and television commercials include the slogan as well. But the meaning of “drink responsibly” is never defined in the campaign. In fact, when other groups interpret the meaning of the slogan outside the beverage companies’ comfort zone, such as the “Don’t Drink and Drive” campaign supported by alcohol opponents, the beverage companies respond with contradictory advertisements. Ives refers to a television commercial that “encourages people to feel free to have a drink before driving home” (Ives, 2003.) Ives claims the spot was produced in response to the “Don’t Drive Drunk” message and quotes Paul Avery, president of the Outback Steakhouse and restaurant chain and the American Beverage Institute as saying, “these overly conservative messages tell responsible Americans that they’re wrong in going out and having a glass of beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail at dinner, or at a sports venue and driving home. We’re just trying to protect ourselves,” (Ives, 2003.) There appears to be a tension in alcohol advertisements between selling as much product as possible and encouraging drinking in moderation among consumers.
So what does “drink responsibly” really mean and are the alcohol beverage companies truly advising their customers not to use too much of their product? I propose to look at the “drink responsibly” campaign through the strategic-control perspective with a strategic ambiguity lens to see how the slogan is interpreted differently depending on the consumer. Through rhetorical analysis, I will also examine the “drink responsibly” campaign to see if it is making a real difference in alcohol consumption, as well as research why the companies are promoting responsible drinking. Casswell says “as is the case with the tobacco corporations, the alcohol corporations are producers and marketers of an addictive substance which causes significant harm” (Casswell, 2012). Yet, so far, the alcohol industry has persuaded government to let them be self-regulating. Is the “drink responsibly” campaign a true public service or just another way for the alcoholic beverage industry to promote their products and protect their companies from further government regulation?
Note the small “Drink Responsibly” message in the lower right corner.
Casswell, S. (2013). Vested interests in addiction research and policy. Why do we not see the corporate interests of the alcohol industry as clearly as we see those of the tobacco industry?. Addiction, 108(4), 680-685. doi:10.1111/add.12011
Ives, N. (2003, April 17). A campaign supports going out, having a drink and driving, as long as it is done responsibly. New York Times. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.queens.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/432379618?accountid=38688
Ringold, D. J. (2008). Responsibility and brand advertising in the alcoholic beverage market. Journal of Advertising, 37(1), 127-141. doi:10.2753/JOA0091-3367370110
To find out more about this topic, please review my textual analysis paper at