Research type 
Year of report 

Summary of findings


An overarching campaign proposition territory was identified to be the most effective way to engage the target audience with the behaviour change campaign. The proposition territory identified draws on the most compelling elements of two territories researched; ‘a ticking time bomb’ and ‘how much is too much’.

The campaign requires an integrated campaign to take the target audience on a unified behaviour change journey and should consist of four steps - indentify, displace, empower and support - and utilise a range of messages, sources and channels.

The primary campaign objectives should be to ensure increasing and higher risk drinkers clearly and unequivocally identify themselves as the campaign target and to displace their misperceptions of the risk attached to their drinking. Once this has been achieved, a broad call to action will help to frame the long-term focus on behaviour change and empower drinkers to take action.

Once the target audience reach a point where they feel willing and empowered to change their behaviour, sources of support will be critical and should enable drinkers to choose their own, natural approach to behaviour change. Tips and strategies can play a role in supporting drinkers.

Key learning for the proposition territory

Communicating multiple serious long-term health harm messages was the most effective at raising awareness through shocking drinkers about a range of consequences. Throat and mouth cancer, stroke and breast cancer (for females) were found to be the most powerful health harms, with the impact of the message increasing with the probability.

The research suggested that units, guidelines and risks need to be carefully communicated to avoid confusion, deliberate disengagement and denial. The campaign should avoid overt reduction messages in the initial stages; implicit reduction message have the most potential for encouraging drinkers to cut down.

Recommendation for creative route

Four creative routes were tested: Scan, Endoscope, Drinks and Fruit. Scan was found to be the most powerful route, allowing identification with the issue and disrupting drinkers’ misperception of risk.

Brands and sources

The target audience expected the campaign to come from the NHS but the idea of the campaign being supported by trusted partners (especially those connected to health harm messages) was welcomed and added credibility. The preferred combination was the NHS in association with the charities/partners.

The role of further information and support

Drinkers believe that they are in control of their consumption and therefore initially reject the idea of requesting information or seeking help and support. However, in reality, drinkers do need further support to encourage them to take action and maintain behaviour change.

The most effective way to deliver further information and support is to actively provide further information via a number of channels and sources. Support will need to be carefully positioned and should provide an ad-hoc toolbox of support tools that help drinkers personalise the issue.

Tips and tools on the behaviour change journey

Early indications suggest that drinkers adopt a behaviour change journey consisting of a number of sequential steps when they initially try to cut down their drinking:

  • Internalise and affirm
  • Make a decision to cut down
  • Develop a strategy
  • Evaluate progress
  • Adapt strategies

It appears that there is a role for information and/or support at each of these steps. As drinkers internalise and affirm the issue there is a role for information and support tools such as units information and recommended daily limits information, further information on health harms and tools that allow them to personalise the issue. Tools such as the mobile units calculator concept that was tested would be useful at this stage.

While drinkers develop their strategy of how they will cut down they would benefit from the provision of a range of tips and hints, delivered via multiple channels. Tips that were most positively received are those that help drinkers make a plan, reinforce willpower and determination, help drinkers to adapt their current drinking behaviour, provide alternatives to drinking and help them recognise the greater benefits of cutting down.

While drinkers evaluate their progress they would benefit from information and tools to help them evaluate their progress in a more structured way. This could include information or tools that reinforce units information, recommended daily limits and risks levels. Tracking tools would also be useful for some drinkers. Drinkers would benefit from being exposed to hints and tips again as they adapt their strategies to keep them on the behaviour change journey.

Tools that require drinkers to seek support were rejected; therefore the concepts for one-way and two-way messages of support, Q&A services and online forums were dismissed.

Overview of campaign effectiveness

The campaign has potential to effectively work to make both increasing and higher risk drinkers identify with the issue and reappraise their drinking behaviour, which is an enormous shift amongst drinkers who are typically highly resistant to messages around their drinking.

It is likely that this new campaign will be extremely effective as a catalyst for propelling drinkers towards behaviour change, from conscious to curious to concerned to willing to change. It appears that the campaign has potential to not only reach the core target audience (increasing and higher risk drinkers, 35- to 55-year-olds, DE) but also engage a wider population (binge drinkers, higher socioeconomic group (SEG), those aged over 55 with pre-existing health conditions).

The campaign is likely to be highly effective at creating identification with the issue, displacing misperception of risk and empowering increasing and higher risk drinkers to think about changing their behaviour.

Although the campaign is likely to create a huge mindset shift amongst drinkers, it is likely that they will require sustained exposure to the messages and additional motivation in order to make sustained behaviour change.

Research objectives


There were 4 key objectives for this research:

  1. To explore a range of propositions to determine a core proposition territory for the social marketing campaign 
  2. To explore and evaluate creative routes to determine the most effective route (including health harm messages) 
  3. To evaluate the most appropriate channels and brands for the messages 
  4. To evaluate the role of further information and support (including the customer relationship management journey)



The Department of Health (DH) aims to prevent alcohol related harm and reduce the number of hospital admissions as a result of increasing and higher risk drinking. Previous research has been conducted to develop insight into different drinkers’ motivations and barriers to reduction including the development of drinker typologies and building on this, a quantitative segmentation based on direct marketing data.

Further research was required to shape a new social marketing campaign that brings together varied strands of past and current work into one holistic campaign, to encourage higher and increasing risk drinkers to reduce to safer levels.

Quick summary


The research explored a range of creative propositions in order to develop a social marketing campaign to encourage higher and increasing risk drinkers to reduce to safer levels.

Audience Summary





25 to 70 years

Social Class






Phase 1

  • 2-day client ‘Proposition Factory’ workshop
  • 8 x 1.5 hr focus groups (n=6)
  • Sample segmented by: Age bands: 25 to 40, 40 to 55; 55 to 70; DE SEG; Mixed gender; Increasing and higher risk drinkers; Drinkers pre-conscious or conscious of the issue of regular harmful drinking

Phase 2

  • Mini-groups (mix of stranger and friendship groups) 
  • Paired depths
  • Depth interviews
  • Sample segmented by: Mixed gender, male or female only; Age: 35 to 44, 45 to 55; DE SEG; Drinkers pre-conscious or conscious of the issue of regular harmful drinking; Either increasing or higher risk drinkers

Phase 3

  • Reconvened interviews with respondents from Phase 2 depths/paired depths

Data collection methodology

Depth interviews
Focus groups

Sample size

  • Phase 1: 8 groups (n=48)
  • Phases 2 and 3: 4 depths; 5 paired depths; 10 mini-groups (n=54)
  • Total (n=102)

Fieldwork dates


September and November 2009

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Research agency


COI Number