Drink Free Days is a campaign run by Drinkaware and Public Health England, aiming to help drinkers between the age of 40 and 64 who drink over the low risk drinking guidance (no more than 14 units per week) to be drinking in less harmful ways. It launched in September 2018.
The campaign evolved from the Drinkaware Have a Little Less, Feel a Lot Better campaign, which for two years (May 2016 to June 2018) aimed to help midlife male drinkers make better choices about their drinking. See the evidence behind this campaign here.
The Drink Free Days campaign is an evolution of the Have a Little Less, Feel a Lot Better campaign in the sense that it focuses on routine drinking in the home and it continues to target midlife men, however it differs by including midlife female drinkers and by presenting a stronger ‘call to action’ by suggesting people to take drink free days.
The selection of our target population was informed by an initial segmentation from the Drinkaware Monitor 2014. This work identified a segment of increasing or high risk drinkers ‘Risky Career Drinkers’, of which the single biggest demographic group is 45 to 64 year old men.
Furthermore, in England and Scotland middle-aged men have the highest average weekly alcohol consumption,, and alcohol-related death rates in the UK in 2015 were highest among men aged 55 to 69 years (42.2–44.9 deaths per 100,000 population).
Informed by a systematic review of qualitative research into UK midlife men’s drinking our insight research ‘Midlife Male Drinking’ found that this audience are habitual drinkers who do the majority of their drinking at home and who often do not realise they are drinking at levels which affect their long-term health.
Midlife women (aged 45-64) are included as part of the target audience for the DFD campaign partly due to further insights emerging and partly due to the evolution of the campaign messaging towards a stronger call to action. The segmentation of UK drinkers based on the Drinkaware Monitor 2017 identified two segments (segment 4 and 8) which substituted the previous category of ‘Risky Career Drinkers’ by offering more granular detail. It highlighted that women make up 46% of segment 4 and 35% of segment 8 respectively, and that women aged 45-64 specifically represent 19% of segment 4 and 18% of segment 8.
Furthermore, findings from the Drinkaware Monitor 2018 suggest that men are more likely to report that advice from a spouse or partner prompts them to think about reducing their drinking – with 12% of men saying that this was a trigger for them to think about cutting down. Hence, targeting messages at midlife women may engage not only the women themselves, but also indirectly the men who are their partners or spouses.
‘Drink free days’ is the campaign’s main call to action, and has superseded the previous 2016-2018 Drinkaware campaign message of ‘Have a little less, feel a lot better’. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) it offers a simple and clear message to more effectively support behaviour change, 2) it is recommended as a drink moderation strategy in the 2016 CMO low risk drinking guidelines, and 3) the UK public are finding the message relevant and relatively easy to action.
In line with good practice principles for social marketing, the ‘drink free days’ message has the benefit of being simple and clear, offering no risk of the audience misunderstanding what they are being asked to do. Furthermore, research suggests that public health messages focusing on making lifestyle behaviour changes in a non-stigmatising way are more likely to be positively received by the audience.
The 2016 UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines recommend having several drink free days per week. The guidelines state that:
‘If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.’
Our insight research suggests that the ‘drink free days’ message is positively received by the target audience. During the first half of 2018, message testing research undertaken for Drinkaware explored the drinking of midlife women in segments 4 and 8, and it examined which messages and calls to action both midlife men and women would find most engaging.
Taking drink free days was found to be a receptive message for the midlife male and female audiences, positively encouraging them to change their drinking habits for the better and therefore reduce the risk of alcohol related harm.
Furthermore, taking drink free days is already by far the most popular drink moderation strategy in the UK with 72% of drinkers having used this in the past. Data from the Drinkaware Monitor 2017 show that, among UK adults aged 45-65, 26% of men and 16% of women drink alcohol on at least four days of the week, suggesting that among these there is good potential to be adding extra drink free days.
Alongside the Drink Free Days call to action, the campaign addresses key health harm topics, including: high blood pressure and heart disease, weight and breast cancer. The rationale for focusing on these is that our message testing research (see the link above) found that the midlife male audience was most receptive to messaging around high blood pressure and weight, and the midlife female audience was most receptive to messaging on breast cancer and weight.