Brown-Forman: Building a global alcohol responsibility culture

Many people associate alcohol with some of the best moments in their lives: dates, marriages, graduations. Some associate it with the mundane things that they love, like spending time with friends and family. And, of course, some people associate alcohol with wreckage and destruction.

Any company that makes and sells alcoholic products has to face that duality. They either ignore reality or engage the problems. When Brown-Forman approached us about an alcohol responsibility campaign, we were concerned that they were ignoring the issue. We were totally wrong. At all levels of the company, they were actively talking about responsibility. They encouraged and supported a community of sober employees. They supported in-patient recovery centers financially. They also stopped in to hear the stories of those people in recovery and to bring them special meals.

We found out that Brown-Forman has been pushing the industry to higher standards of alcohol responsibility for decades. They found talking about it difficult, though. When any company does something philanthropically, it can be challenging to talk about it without seeming disingenuous. Because of this, campaigns were shelved. They would rather say nothing than appear to be profiting from their responsibility work.

A second difficulty is that alcohol responsibility language has become stale. The terminology is associated with the federally required blurb at the bottom of an advertisement. We were tasked with enabling employees to talk about responsibility in a way that is fun, inspiring, open to multiple interpretations, in-line with their brand strategy, and uses their brand guidelines. Also, as a multinational company, the effort needed to translate across the world.


Brown Forman Pause Impact Brand Campaign Banner Design

Through hundreds of hours of small group discussions, we came to believe the employees genuinely embodied the organization’s values: teamwork, excellence, respect, trust. One repeated sentiment stood out: “we trust that if given the time, our co-workers will make the right decision.” We heard other employees talk about mindfulness, proactivity, purpose. We merged the two thoughts into the campaign: Pause. It is open-ended. It is different for every person. It allows a person to consider if they should have another drink or get something to eat. It leaves room for a person to review the implications of a message before submitting a brief. It leaves room to think about the legacy the company has in Louisville, the industry, and across the world.

The Brown-Forman Corporation focuses its efforts on health and well-being (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), and life on land (SDG 15).