John Tran gives an inside look at Pernod Ricard USA’s responsible drinking strategy

In 2013, following the industry-wide five responsible drinking commitments (reducing under age drinking, strengthening and expanding marketing codes of practices, providing consumer information and responsible product innovation, reducing drinking and driving, and enlisting the support of retailers to reduce harmful drinking), Pernod Ricard mapped out a five-year plan to demonstrate their mission and make an impact on their audiences.

Now, Director of Sustainability and Responsibility John Tran is leading the charge on their next steps — better connecting with their stakeholders to develop messaging and initiatives that position responsible drinking as one of the four main pillars of their 2030 sustainability and responsibility strategy.

“Our overall vision is to be creators of conviviality,” said John. “But there’s no conviviality in excess, so we want to make sure we’re being responsible hosts.”

As they were building out their responsible drinking program, John and his team had two main priorities.

The first is to reduce underage drinking, and the second is to eliminate driving under the influence.

“We’ve done a lot of strategy and work around that,” said John. “We focus both at the consumer level as well as the industry level because we want to work together with other organizations including competitors to make this impact.”

According to John, they are well-positioned to make a positive impact on responsible drinking because they believe in the power of collective action.

Our marketing teams are putting out a lot of different messaging, and we want to make sure that one of those messages is about drinking responsibly. John Tran
Aside from partnering with their competitors at the industry level, John and his team also partner with nonprofit organizations like the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility — better known as Responsibility.org — to ensure they’re communicating a message of responsible drinking and responsible hosting to consumers at every level.

“Another part of our strategy is making sure we’re working closely with our employees, who are the gatekeepers to information that’s being communicated to consumers,” said John. “Our marketing teams are putting out a lot of different messaging, and we want to make sure that one of those messages is about drinking responsibly.”

He said educating employees in marketing and brand ambassadorships to keep that messaging in mind is something they require and conduct through responsible marketing training. “It’s all about making sure what we communicate externally matches what we do internally,” said John.

To communicate that message, John is working closely with their individual brands to move the corporate mission forward.

“We’re in a unique position in that not many people in the U.S. know Pernod Ricard, but they do know the brands,” said John. “It actually lends itself well, particularly working with marketing. Everyone knows Jameson and Absolut Vodka and that has given us the opportunity to apply our corporate values to our consumer values as well.”

John and his team made sure the marketers with those individual brands were trained in the messaging and there were standard practices they’ve adopted within the organization.

“Every single advertising piece that goes out into the world has some kind of ‘drink responsible’ messaging somewhere on the ad,” said John. “What we want to be able to do from a corporate standpoint is to be a resource for other departments within the organization to make it come to life for their stakeholders.”

John and his team work closely with internal departments to identify those stakeholders and make sure there is a clear line of communication.

Another part of our strategy is making sure we're working closely with our employees, who are the gatekeepers to information that's being communicated to consumers. John Tran
They work with their sales teams to communicate their messaging to retailers and distributor partners specifically, because they don’t sell directly to consumers. And, John emphasized, maintaining that communication across teams is where they’ve found success reaching all their key audiences.

“It’s finding opportunities to work with our internal departments and stakeholders to reach a larger audience that makes a difference,” said John. “Sales is retailers, marketing is consumers, and legal and HR make sure employees are well-versed and well-trained in the messaging as well.”

To bring their messaging and commitments to life, they use tools and apps to help consumers educate themselves on responsible drinking habits.

The first is “The Smart Barometer,” an external facing platform to share information on where they stand with the five industry commitments to consumers. Then, in terms of apps, they promote the Wise Drinking App — which they developed internally — and the BAC tool, which was developed with their nonprofit partner FAAR.

Both apps focus on providing consumers recommendations based on the data they input about their drinking habits on any given night.

We focus both at the consumer level as well as the industry level, because we want to work together with other organizations -- including competitors -- to make this impact. John Tran
“Because there are so many different factors at play, like height, age, weight, what you ate that morning, how much water you’ve consumed, how much sleep you’ve had, etc. that play a different role in how alcohol impacts you, we wanted to customize it as much as possible,” said John.

“We’ve also expanded our own app to have a smart bot within social media, so if you have Facebook Messenger it can make recommendations on what you should be doing based on the night that you’re having, in a more humanized way.”

John and his team push these apps across their corporate channels as well as through specific, individual brands. “We also found that working through trade partners is very effective,” said John. “Particularly for Jameson, which is popular among bartenders and servers, so we can connect with our consumers in that way as well.”

Now that they have these pieces in place, part of their strategy moving forward is having more proactive communication with their brands by 2025.

“For example, we tried to line a lot of our messaging up for April, which is Alcohol Responsibility Awareness Month, but we don’t have a great line of communication with our brands around events like that right now,” said John.

He hopes they can work to build out their process to be more clued into proactive media and advertising where they can offer explicit, specific messages for their brands to share.

They are also planning on developing greater commitments around responsible drinking in their 2030 goals.

We've also expanded our own app to have a smart bot within social media, so if you have Facebook Messenger it can make recommendations on what you should be doing based on the night that you're having, in a more humanized way. John Tran
From a responsible marketing standpoint, they are working with an international organization called IARD (the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking) to revamp and redefine their goals moving forward.

“We’re working with them to focus on digital media,” said John. “One of the things that is difficult to regulate sometimes is age-gating in media and social media. So, we’re making sure we’re working together towards a solution for that.”

They’ve worked with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat to get them on board this commitment, as well as their competitors, to limit the advertising that goes to anyone under the legal drinking age.

They’re also working on more proactive programming to show a positive impact.

“We want to start quantifying what we’re doing to show positive impacts in terms of promoting a responsible drinking lifestyle,” said John. “We’re looking to proactively educate up to 1 million people, which includes young adults under legal drinking age as well as adults of legal drinking age on responsible drinking.”

Throughout the process of building out this strategy, one of the things they’ve learned is ensuring they have stakeholder feedback early and often.

John emphasized that, as a decentralized organization, collaboration is key. Having a reiterative process where they can solicit feedback and buy-in, and then adapt based off of that, has been crucial to their success.

“Instead of going from A to D and saying, ‘what do you think of project D,’ getting feedback, and having to start back from A, we go from A to B and get that feedback early,” said John. “It has created a better strategy for us and that was a huge learning opportunity for us.”

John also said it was important for them to change the mindset of creating a strategy with impact versus a strategy with outcomes.

“We wanted to be more outcome-based as opposed to reduction-based in the work we were doing here,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t want us to only focus on doing less harm. I want us to focus on doing more good. We’ll continue to look at reduction as a means to measure success, but we should also look at what we’re doing to show that we’re making a contribution, and that speaks to overall sustainability as well.”

Pernod Ricard is a Founding member of the CSR Board and has been a member since 2019. You can follow John on LinkedIn.