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Mongan, Deirdre (2017) Stop Out of Control Drinking campaign. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 60, Winter 2017, pp. 21-22.

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The Diageo-funded ‘responsible drinking’ campaign named Stop Out of Control Drinking (SOOCD) was launched in February 2015 and chaired by Fergus Finlay, the chief executive of Barnardos. Since its inception it has generated controversy due its funding by the alcohol industry, and it has been claimed that is merely a smokescreen to take away political focus from reforms in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 around minimum pricing, marketing, alcohol promotion and alcohol availability.1 A recent study analysed the SOOCD campaign. Its aims were to identify how the campaign and its advisory board members frame and define alcohol-related harm and its causes, and possible solutions.2 This involved undertaking an analysis of SOOCD campaign material, which included newspaper articles (n=9), media interviews (n=11), Facebook posts (n=92), and Twitter tweets (n=340) produced by the campaign and by board members.


SOOCD board members

Initially, there were 17 board members, although four subsequently resigned, including David Smith, Diageo Ireland country director. A number of the remaining board members or their organisations have links to Diageo/Guinness. Gavin Duffy worked as an alcohol industry consultant and for Guinness; Sport for Business has Guinness as a client; Dublin City University has received Diageo funding; the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) is sponsored by Diageo; and Fergus Finlay is a mentor to the Arthur Guinness Fund supporting social entrepreneurs. It was not possible to ascertain if board members had any links to other alcohol companies. The campaign itself was supported by public relations firm Goddard Global, which has had both Diageo and tobacco companies as clients, and is linked to the Common Sense Alliance, a tobacco industry lobby group.


Framing the problem

Although the campaign focuses on ‘out of control drinking’, what this means is not clearly defined. The authors found that the campaign used vague or self-defined concepts of ‘out of control’ and ‘moderate’ drinking, presenting alcohol harm as a behavioural problem rather than a health issue. There was no attempt to quantify moderate drinking, while one board member described the internationally public health measure of binge drinking as being ‘unhelpful’. Some board members stated that moderate drinking is normal, and identified not drinking as abnormal; several also stated that critics of the campaign are non-drinkers and prohibitionists.


In relation to alcohol-related harm, the campaign emphasised antisocial behaviour; in contrast, the health harms associated with alcohol were almost entirely absent from discussions, even though alcohol-related health harm in Ireland is considerable. The focus was on young people, particularly young women, despite alcohol harms affecting men, women and children across the whole population. It was the opinion of the board members that the main causes of excessive drinking in young people were individual attitudes and motivations; Irish culture, tradition and society; and peers and parents. They also highlighted that it is individuals themselves that are responsible for creating the Irish drinking culture, and they appeared to absolve the alcohol industry of any responsibility towards the creation or maintenance of this culture. In some cases, the responsibility of industry is explicitly excluded as an influence by board members.


Framing the solutions to ‘out of control drinking’


Similar to the alcohol industry, board members focused on dealing with alcohol misuse, particularly in young people, rather than looking at alcohol as an issue for the general population. Board members generally did not recommend evidence-based population-based approaches, such as alcohol marketing restrictions, minimum unit pricing, and restrictions on availability. Conversely, they placed strong emphasis on educational interventions which are widely accepted as being ineffective. The need for evidence in dealing with the problem of ‘out of control’ drinking is mentioned, but scientific evidence is just one aspect to be considered alongside views, conversations, stories and experiences.


The authors conclude that the content of the SOOCD campaign reflects the needs of the alcohol industry rather than public health. They suggest that the main effect of the campaign may be to protect the reputation of Diageo in Ireland, while undermining the recent Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

The current status of the campaign is unclear. Initially, it was intended to last for five years; however, social media activity appears to have ceased, and the SOOCD website is currently inaccessible (access attempted 20 October 2016). 


  1. Ó Fátharta C (2015) Third group steps down from Diageo alcohol campaign. Irish Examiner 25 Mar 2015. http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/third-group-steps-down-from-diageo-alcohol-campaign-320271.html Accessed 20 October 2016.
  2. Petticrew M, Fitzgerald N, Durand MA, Knai C, Davoren M, Perry I (2016) Diageo's 'Stop Out of Control Drinking' campaign in Ireland: an analysis. PLoS One, 11(9): e0160379.

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