Blog: Chris Brook-CarterShould F1 drive to drink?

Chris Brook-Carter | 28 February 2005

I had the pleasure last week of visiting the HQ of MacLaren for the unveiling by Diageo of its Johnnie Walker sponsorship of the UK-based Formula 1 motor-racing team to the tune of between £10m and £15m.

It follows hot on the heels of Smirnoff's involvement in the US-based NASCAR event, and is a great fit for a brand attempting to reinforce its image as sophisticated and relevant to 25- to 45-year-old men.

However, the deal will inevitably cause controversy. Formula 1 has only just ended its long-term partnership with a number of tobacco companies and alcohol will be seen by some as an equally evil substitute.

The question must be asked, should alcohol and cars ever mix?

"If it's the start of a trend for alcohol to fill the role of tobacco in formula one advertising, then it's something we would be very concerned about," said a spokesman for Alcohol Concern, the alcohol misuse agency, this week.

While I would concede to critics that advertising of alcohol around motor sports should be carefully monitored, Diageo has built a strong and persuasive defence in this case.

Its marketing around the sponsorship is built primarily through an extra £2m a year that will be budgeted to push a responsible drinking message in Grand Prix markets.

PepsiCo's chairman Steve Reinemund today rejected calls for a total ban on soft drink advertising to children, because it would effectively end the industry's chances of being involved in a solution to child obesity. A similar argument can be used here. Who has the more powerful platform to educate consumers about the dangers of drink driving: the drinks companies themselves allied with high profile F1 drivers or faceless government authorities?

Both are probably needed if we are to make an effective effort to stamp out the problem. Furthermore, as both Diageo and McLaren boss Ron Dennis pointed out last week, if this campaign succeeds, it will not only encourage Diageo to spend more money on social responsibility, but raise the bar for the industry in general and force other drinks companies to follow suit.


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