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What we learned from Heineken’s ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’ drink-drive campaign

A new campaign – ‘When You Drive, Never Drink’ – and a study of drink-drive behaviour was launched at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, with former world champion Nico Rosberg as the campaign ambassador. These are the facts.

Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a chance many of us have pushed our luck when it comes to the consumption of booze before hopping behind the wheel. It has, sadly, taken the lives of many motorists and pedestrians (220 in 2015) yet continues to prevail.

This is despite those rather hard-hitting but seemingly flawed adverts from Think!, which focus solely on the ramifications of ignoring the legal limit. Because as gross as seeing someone smash into a bar is, mimicking the impact of an actual crash, your mind after a beer or wine is elsewhere. Probably on that post-session kebab.

So it makes sense, then, that research has been done into how you can change behaviours. But its source comes from the unlikeliest of sources, a major beer company. Heineken, to be precise. Strange, to say the least.

Though the exact reasoning for such a study is unclear (maybe there is some legislative hurdle ahead), one that has proven immensely costly if unverified reports are to be believed, what we do know is that Heineken now offers its alcohol-free ‘0.0’ beer in most countries worldwide.

It also undertook a proof of concept study in Manchester and Reading, two places that were chosen because they have the unfortunate accolade of having the highest number of drink-driving offenses in the UK. No round of applause, please.

What did the study involve?

10 bars were selected in the aforementioned areas, all with Heineken on offer and a car park. These were loaded with observers who kept tabs on whether people were drinking, how much they had and other information. Bar-goers were then questioned at various points, including at the end of their night.

These questions were designed to be subtle, but participants knew they were part of some study. Ultimately, Heineken wanted to know if people were planning on drink-driving.

To keep the results fair, it did a three-day trial without any of its ‘nudges’ and then one with them all to iron out any placebo effects and other issues that could affect the end result.

What were the ‘nudges’?

Nudge is the term used because it implies a gentle level of persuasion, as opposed to being tasered as you leave for the car park. These varied in size, ranging from a lowly beer mat and a poster to signs in the car park and toilet. 20 of them were used in total.

Heineken also used a pledge system, which involved the designated driver signing a pledge card. This not only makes it obvious to the group who will be staying off the sauce, it was also incentivised through the use of free nachos. Because everyone loves nachos.

What were the results?

Out of the 700 surveys undertaken over a two-week period, Heineken said it saw up to a 50 per cent reduction in drink-driving, which is a rather significant improvement.

It also found that the campaign made 60 per cent question their behaviour towards the issue and 80 per cent said it helped them support their friend who had pledged to be the designated driver.

Who performed the study?

To keep things neutral (as neutral as possible, anyway), Heineken enlisted the help of third-party research company, Innovia Technology. A worldwide survey of drinkers was also undertaken.

How effective was the study?

There is a long way to go in changing habits on a grand scale and the size of the sample base is too small to really find a one-size-fits-all solution. But it has been deemed a success.

Dr Helena Rubinstein, leading behavioural scientist from the firm, commented: “This is a tangible development in drink driving research. The approach Heineken is taking is an innovative one. The interventions act together as part of a set and, in this relatively small sample size, have proven to be successful in reducing reported drink driving behaviour.”

Rubinstein, who is also looking into the behaviours of drivers and passengers toward autonomous cars, added: “Rolled out globally, this could help reduce drink driving incidents worldwide.”

What does Heineken’s ‘0.0’ non-alcoholic beer taste like?

Not actually that different, if you drink one thinking it is an actual Heineken. But side by side, it is somewhat bitter. Still, at least there is less chance of you ending up dancing on a table.

So more of a marketing exercise than actual research?

In some ways, yes. But any attempt to raise awareness for drink-driving, be that served with a dollop of advertising for a non-alcoholic beer, is a good thing because ultimately it wrecks lives.

And you need only watch one of those Think! adverts to know that.

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