Analysis: The three dry campaigns - compare and contrast

Health charities have battled it out with rival efforts to promote alcohol abstinence. Susannah Birkwood reports

Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon campaign
Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon campaign

People who want to give up alcohol for charity are spoilt for choice these days: three separate month-long campaigns were launched in 2013 urge them to do just that.

The two biggest are Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon, which has raised nearly £10m to date, and Macmillan Cancer Support's Go Sober for October, which raised £2.3m in its first year. Alcohol Concern, meanwhile, runs Dry January, which had almost 16,000 participants last year. All three are health charities, but the emphasis of Dry January is on abstaining from alcohol rather than raising funds. Last year 10 per cent of participants raised £45,000; the charity declines to give figures for 2014.

"The aim is to create a different conversation about drinking and to encourage people to reflect on how much alcohol they consume," says Emily Robinson, its deputy chief executive. "It's frustrating for us as a small charity that two of the biggest charities in the country are running similar campaigns. They have bigger marketing budgets than we do."

Robinson's biggest complaint is that the other campaigns send what she considers to be the wrong message about alcohol in the way they have been marketed: both involve people being sponsored to give up alcohol for a month, but participants unable to stay the course can purchase a "golden pass" (CRUK) or "golden tickets" (Macmillan) for £15 in exchange for a night off.

It's great that three charities have had similar ideas and we're all benefiting

Hannah Redmond, head of national events at Macmillan

Hannah Redmond, head of national events at Macmillan, says Go Sober has made it clear from the outset that it is not a health campaign, despite being run by a health charity. "We're not asking people to change their lifestyles," she says. "The health benefits aren't an objective in themselves." The charity partnered on the project with Dry July, the campaign in Australia through which more than 65,000 participants have raised more than A$15m (£8.2m) so far for various cancer charities.

Macmillan launched its alcohol abstention campaign in October 2013, a full 10 months after Alcohol Concern and CRUK had launched theirs. Redmond says she welcomes the competition. "It's great that three charities have had similar ideas and we're all benefiting," she says. "There's enough room in the market for everyone. I look at it like 10km running events - it would be a bit odd if there was only one of them."

At the recent event I Wish I'd Thought of That, which showcased outstanding fundraising ideas, Sinead Chapman, strategy director at Open Fundraising, said that CRUK deliberately increased the profile of its campaign after discovering that Macmillan was planning a similar one.

"The launch was supposed to be discreet," she said. "It was meant to be launched in Manchester only. At the eleventh hour, in the knowledge that Macmillan was on the same track - it didn't know when, how or where – CRUK doubled the budget, taking it to London and south-east England as well. And the PR machine went into gear."

Richard Taylor, head of fundraising at CRUK, disputes this. He says he was aware of Macmillan's plans well before CRUK's launch on 3 December 2012, and that the increased campaign spend and geographical reach were motivated only by market research. This, he says, indicated that the concept would prove a success in the UK, as it had in Australia for Dry July, cited by both CRUK and Macmillan as the inspiration for their campaigns.

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