Drinks producers must implement a "step change" on responsible marketing if they are to avoid further public vilification and possible legislation, said Brown-Forman’s David Cox at a lecture at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust on Wednesday night.
His comments come as the drinks sector faces unprecedented scrutiny over binge drinking and its effects on health and antisocial behaviour.
Cox, whose firm owns Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort, questioned whether all drinks industry professionals with access to consumers “really understand the problem”.
In a deliberately provocative speech, he called on producers to actively promote responsible drinking, rather than rely solely on adding units to labels and the Drink Aware slogan on adverts.
“I absolutely believe we have to go further than just ticking boxes,” he said. Industry attitudes to advertising must shift “from what can I get away with, to how can I make a difference. I’m surprised how very few people in the industry think about this.”
Inevitably, Cox drew on recent Jack Daniels adverts for positive examples. He cited poster campaigns, such as one based on the slogan “ain’t called sippin’ whiskey for nothin’”. Other examples were certain Diageo campaigns, such as one entitled “don’t see a great night wasted”.
Excess drinking costs the UK health service around £1.7bn annually, government figures show.
Co-operation between industry and government was still key in changing public attitudes to alcohol, according to Cox. “I believe a behaviour change is possible,” he said.
Separately, OLN understands that a similar discussion on adverts took place at a meeting between drinks industry leaders and prime minister Gordon Brown earlier this year.
It is believed Diageo offered to make a quota of its adverts specifically about responsible drinking.