Shock Campaign Attacks U.K.'s Binge Drinkers

A not-so-subtle series of ads shocks, educates, informs-- see the video.

LONDON, June 12, 2009 — -- A new ad campaign designed to combat binge drinking is striking a chord across the U.K.

The British government has released a series of short videos that underscore the ugly side of alcohol. They contain no statistics, no dire doctor warnings and no information about the long-term, adverse effects of binge drinking.

Instead, they are silent and short, and tell the story of a night gone wrong because of excessive drinking.

The hip, indie-style clips are targeted at 18- to 24-year-olds across Great Britain. The U.K. has the third-worst level of binge drinking in the European Union, after Denmark and the Isle of Man. A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 44 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the U.K. are regular binge drinkers and half of 15- to 16-year-olds have participated in binge drinking.

"To affect people you have to talk their language," said Rachel Seabrook, the research manager at the Institute for Alcohol Studies, an organization that is fighting binge drinking in the U.K. "We know young people don't really care about long-term health effects. Saying alcohol is going to pickle your liver doesn't really work."

The most recent ads include a single character suffering from the effects of binge drinking in a very public and, the government hopes, embarrassing way.

In one ad a young women is seen getting out of bed half-naked and pulling on ripped nylons. She stumbles to the bathroom and vomits, smears it through her hair and then badly smudges her makeup. She rips the heel off one shoe and limps out the door. The question appears across the screen, "You wouldn't start a night like this, so why end it that way?"

In another ad, a young man on the street becomes rowdy and offensive, singing songs at full blast, insulting women, inciting violence and publicly relieving himself against a trash can. The following phrase appears, "If you wouldn't do it sober …"

"A focus on the short-term danger is a good idea. Things like having vomit in your hair and looking horrible seems likely to be relevant," says Seabrook. "I hope they have the images that young people really will find repellent."

Are the Ads Effective?

The Institute for Alcohol Studies has found that education does not have a great track record in changing drinking behavior in the U.K. The organization says that alternatively, there is evidence that pro-alcohol advertising does have an effect on young people. Heavy advertising during the World Cup in 2006 resulted in an increase in alcohol sales across the country. It is difficult to monitor how much of that went to underage or binge drinker consumption.

The goal of this campaign is to advertise the humiliation binge drinking can bring to try and stop it.

"I think it definitely makes the point," says Devia Melwani, a 30-something woman living in London. "The ads are absolutely necessary; we constantly need to be reminded."