Responsibility Initiatives

Control states are constantly seeking new and inventive ways of conveying messages about responsible drinking to the general public. While many of these initiatives are focused on young people and college campuses, a major challenge of all states is developing effective messaging that resonates with people of all ages. How do you keep things realistic, fresh and engaging? And with so many other media campaigns vying for people’s attention, how do you ensure that your messages don’t get lost in transit?

StateWays reached out to several control states to learn about some of their individual programs: what seems to work best, how people have responded, and what plans are for the future.

Creating Campaigns That Work

Many states rely on traditional marketing methods to promote their responsible drinking campaigns, utilizing materials such as posters, brochures, public service announcements, and coasters, among others. The biggest challenge is determining how to keep these messages captivating and relevant. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) contemplated these issues prior to launching its large-scale “Call the Shots” campaign two years ago. Targeted toward young adults ages 21 to 29, each facet of this multi-media campaign drives people to an interactive web site, The Web site has unique personalization capabilities designed to customize each visitor’s individual user experience and deliver more effective messaging One of the challenges we faced is that the whole general responsible drinking campaign had kind of lost the interest of our intended audience some time ago,” says Jerry Waters Sr., Executive Director of the PLCB’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. “We were challenged to come up with something fresh, and I think we were very successful at doing that.”

A focal point of the “Call the Shots” campaign was the “459 Friends” television advertisement. Inspired by the many friends people tend to accumulate on social networking sites, the ad features a young woman in an intoxicated state, sitting alone at a bus stop in a desolate urban area late at night. The ad stresses that despite the fact that the woman has 459 friends, she really only needed one good friend who could have prevented her from ending up in what is a potentially dangerous situation. Waters reports that the ad was extremely well-received and commended for its ability to get the campaign message across to the intended audience.

Prior to implementing the “Call the Shots” campaign, the PLCB conducted multiple focus groups to test the effectiveness of its messaging. Stacy Kriedeman, Deputy Director of External Affairs, notes that although no one in the focus groups admitted to ever making irresponsible choices while drinking, almost everyone claimed to have a friend who was known to drink too much and make bad decisions as a result. The PLCB decided to incorporate the “be a good friend” philosophy into the initial campaign advertisement. That angle is also being used for some of the more recent incarnations of the campaign, which are featured on the Web site. New scenarios include a group of friends pressuring an intoxicated person to drive, and a young intoxicated woman accidentally sending a message meant for her boyfriend to a large group of people, including her boss and coworkers.

“The idea is to feature scenarios that resonate with our target demographic, that show examples of bad decisions that have happened quite frequently and that can have very serious ramifications, both at the time they are made and also in the aftermath,” Kriedeman explains.

Video Advertisements

Video advertisements in general, whether aired as television spots or distributed solely online, have proven to be a popular and effective method of spreading responsible drinking messages, especially because social media makes it so easy to disseminate and share video content. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) recently produced an eight-minute video titled It’s Your Business, which was pushed out through various social media channels and listservs.

“This video was created to give the public, including our own employees and state legislators, a general idea of what the OLCC does, and to share our concerns about alcohol abuse,” says Cass Skinner, Chair of the Board of the OLCC. Skinner reports that the video was well-received by various audiences.

Not all responsible drinking campaigns are solely directed at members of the general public. Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) recently implemented a large-scale enforcement program for alcohol licensees. The campaign featured prevention compliance posters displayed in store areas trafficked by customers to raise awareness and promote safety. Two ongoing compliance training programs, Managers Alcohol Responsibility Training (MART) and Responsible Selling and Serving: Virginia’s Program (RSVP), provide in-person training to individuals regarding serving and selling responsibilities, how to recognize fake I.D.s, etc.

Automation is a current priority of the Virginia ABC, which is working to increase the availability of materials online such as videos and PDFs. The department is also hoping to implement an online component to the server training program by the end of the year.

Forming Effective Partnerships

While many states are spearheading their own responsible drinking initiatives, a number of them are also joining forces with external organizations in an effort to share resources and reach a larger number of people. The two words that stick out when describing Virginia ABC’s education programs are empowerment and collaboration. Many of the division’s various initiatives focus on encouraging people to take the lead on spreading alcohol awareness messages to members of their own communities. The state also recognizes the benefits and effectiveness of partnering with external organizations in an effort to accomplish as much as possible with limited resources.

“From a strategic perspective, we are focused on strengthening relationships and partnering with grassroots organizations combating underage drinking,” explains Eddie Wirt, Director of Policy, Planning, and Education. “We are also committed to providing increased access to our products and services consumed by the licensed community and prevention groups across the state.”

A great example of how this philosophy has proven successful is the Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Program (YADAPP). Established in 1985, the youth leadership organization became fully housed within the Virginia ABC in 2009. Primarily serving underage teenagers ages 13 – 20, the primary objective of the program is to prevent underage drinking. Each year, YADAPP holds a summer leadership conference attended by more than 600 students from different schools and organizations across the state. The students work in teams to develop individual Strategy to Act Now (STAN) plans to take back and implement in their own communities. Examples of different STAN plans include Red Ribbon Week campaigns, events held in conjunction with high school proms, the formation of alcohol awareness-focused clubs and student organizations, and guest speakers being invited to schools, among others.

The success of YADAPP is mainly attributed to the program’s design, which encourages students to take on proactive leadership roles.

“We bring back former participants of the program to serve as leader to facilitate the conference,” says Katie Weaks, Manager of Education and Prevention. “The idea of peers leading peers is much more effective than us trying to implement the same program statewide.”

YADAPP is just one of the many successful responsible drinking initiatives implemented by the Virginia ABC. The Alcohol Aging and Awareness Group (AAAG) is another collaborative effort spearheaded by multiple state agencies, community coalitions, and healthcare and medical practitioners. The focus of the program is on educating elderly individuals on the dangers of mixing alcohol and medications; and to provide medical practitioners with helpful resources to aid in the identification and treatment of those individuals.This year, the AAAG is branching out to create four new regional groups across Virginia by the end of 2013. Additional initiatives include several programs geared toward college-aged individuals. Virginia’s ABC toured three state universities during College Tour 2012, encouraging students to become leaders in their communities and to create awareness of responsible drinking practices. A partnership with the Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council (VACALC) has allowed Virginia ABC to get more colleges and students involved and encourage them to develop alcohol awareness initiatives to implement in their own schools.

Virginia isn’t the only state to recognize the benefits of partnering with external organizations to spread messages about responsible drinking. In 2011-2012, the PLCB awarded a total of $1 million to 66 organizations as part of its annual grant program. This year, additional funding has been provided to double these efforts, resulting in a total of $2 million in grants being distributed to different groups. Each grant recipient may receive a maximum of $40,000 as part of the program.

“This increase illustrates our belief in the importance of working with people at the local level and giving them funding for their community projects through these various grant programs,” states Bethany Gardner, Director of the PLCB’s Bureau of Alcohol Education.

Mystery Shoppers and Minor Decoy Operations

Some responsible drinking initiatives are a bit more involved than traditional marketing campaigns. In 2011, OLCC brainstormed different ways in which to educate licensees about the dangers of selling alcohol to intoxicated individuals. Taking a unique approach, the OLCC piloted a Mystery Shopper program funded by the Responsible Retailing Forum (RRF) and the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA). The Mystery Shopper experience unfolded as such: a male and female actor would pretend to be intoxicated, enter a liquor licensed business, and attempt to order an alcoholic beverage. If the actors were served despite their pseudo-intoxicated state, the licensees were asked to attend an educational program to learn about appropriate ways to identify and engage with intoxicated patrons.

“The whole purpose behind the program was that we knew we needed to make licensees aware of these issues, but not penalize them,” explains Commission Chair Skinner.. “Our licensees really appreciated the program, and we extended it beyond its pilot year.”

The Mystery Shopper program also proved to have a significant impact on reducing alcohol sales to intoxicated patrons. In 2011, 48% of Mystery Shopper couples were served alcohol, compared to only 34% in 2012.

In an effort to focus on underage drinking, the OLCC also facilitates Minor Decoy Operations. For this program, young adult volunteers ages 18 to 20 are teamed up in a male/female pair. They are accompanied by a team of OLCC investigators, who enter the establishment in advance of the decoy couple in order to make sure the location is safe, and also to ensure that they can witness the interaction firsthand. The decoy couple then enters the establishment and attempts to purchase alcohol. The investigators observe the interaction to see if the decoy couple is carded by the cashier, and if so, to determine how they are carded: e.g., does the cashier request to see an I.D. or just asks the decoys for their dates of birth, and does the cashier scan the I.D. through a state identification system, if one is available?

If the licensee does sell alcohol to the decoy couple, the OLCC investigators issue a citation for serving to a minor, and also have an education session with the licensee immediately following the incident. Alternatively, if the licensee refuses to sell to the decoys, the investigators congratulate them on their compliance.

Clearly, all control states feature some sort of responsibility program, and the initiatives cited above are just a few of the more ambitious examples of how the control states continue to move forward on this front.

Responsibility Action Points

With such a wide variety of campaign mediums to choose from, control states may go about promoting responsible drinking initiatives in a variety of ways. Some tips to consider before embarking on your next campaign:

Determine whether your message is relevant. Will your campaign resonate with its target audience? Is it appropriate for and relatable to the intended demographic?

Find a unique angle. Responsible drinking campaigns have been around for a long time. Figure out a way to make your campaign interesting and engaging so people pay attention and grasp the heart of your message.

Utilize all available resources. Most departments are struggling with limited staff and even more limited budget

dollars. Explore all campaign mediums available to you, many of which are inexpensive and even free (web sites, social media, etc.).

Decide how to measure overall effectiveness. You’ll never know how well your campaign works unless you take the time to analyze the results. Conduct focus groups, keep track of web site hits and social media shares, and review statewide statistics to measure your impact before and after a campaign. This information is relatively easy to procure and will prove invaluable to you as you continue honing your messaging in the future.


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