Behavior Change
Diageo Aiming to Drive Home Dangers of Drunk Driving with Immersive VR Experience

Alcohol giant Diageo — whose brands include Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Bulleit and Buchanan’s whiskies; and Smirnoff, Cîroc and Ketel One vodkas; along with Captain Morgan, Baileys, Don Julio, Tanqueray and Guinness — recently announced plans to roll out a first-of-its-kind immersive virtual reality (VR) technology that will allow consumers of legal drinking age to experience the many pitfalls associated with irresponsible drinking. The campaign, which will launch with a VR experience focused on the effects of drunk driving, is Diageo’s latest initiative to educate consumers about the importance of responsible decision-making when drinking, and an example of how the company is seeking new partners and investing in new technologies and platforms to respond to the changing consumer landscape.

The program is being spearheaded by Diageo’s Digital and Technology Partnerships teams, who have been engaging potential partners in helping support and build out the experience. Joining Diageo in the effort will be digital agency VaynerMedia, which will help the company with the creative vision, production, development and distribution of this immersive experience.

“Despite the fact that drunk driving fatalities are at an all-time low, this issue remains of critical importance to Diageo and the industry as a whole. We believe that virtual reality technology provides a powerful new opportunity to emphasize the importance of celebrating responsibly,” said James Thompson, Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer at Diageo North America. “Enabling people to experience what it’s like to be the passenger in a car being driven by a drunk driver may resonate more with participants than disturbing statistics and crash photos. While we are still in the developmental phase of this project, we are eager to experiment with the technology to see how it can help advance our responsible drinking mission.”

This is the latest initiative from Diageo to remind adults to drink responsibly. Whether it’s pioneering Safe Rides Home designated-driver activations or leveraging apps such as Uber to remind consumers there are alternatives to getting home if they’ve been drinking, Diageo is continually looking for new and inventive ways to reach consumers via emerging platforms and technologies.

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During the VR experience, the consumer's point of view will be from the passenger seat, instead of from behind the wheel, emphasizing the power of choice.

"The goal is to be able to actually put someone in the middle of that experience and for them to see the choices that led to that horrible outcome. I think this approach is much more impactful," Dan Sanborn, SVP of Culture and Partnerships at Diageo, told CNBC.

To make sure as many people as possible get to see it, Sanborn said Diageo is developing a multi-platform experience that can be used across Facebook 360, YouTube, and VR headsets. He said the company also plans to create a sit-in module experience that it will send to sporting events and concerts across the country.

The news comes on the heels of Diageo’s recent announcement of a strategic partnership with United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). The two-year partnership agreement, entitled “Road Safety Initiative for Cities,” will involve a collaboration to build institutional and individual capacity to reduce traffic death and injuries, and improve road safety globally. Scheduled to start in July 2016, training will be run in 15 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin and Central America, with a focus on countries with the highest death rates related to road traffic accidents. More than 60 countries will be invited to participate. The training activities will reach approximately 6,000 participants who will be a mix of government officials, young people, and other relevant stakeholders, through training workshops for government officials at the national and local levels, awareness-raising road shows for young people and high-level conferences on the issue.

“Every drinking and driving death is preventable, and we believe that even one is too many,” Thompson said. “While it’s encouraging to see that the number of alcohol related fatalities has fallen recently, there is more work to be done and we are committed to playing our role in eradicating harm caused by drunk driving.”

Sanborn told CNBC he envisions Diageo taking the technology further "to develop more [VR] experiences that address the many issues around decisions when you're drinking."

Diageo’s foray into VR continues the growth in popularity of the medium as an excellent tool for building engagement and creating empathy, with organizations including Parley for the Oceans, the Sierra Club, Singularity University and Amnesty International, and Matter Unlimited helping people worldwide experience an up-close look at everything from ocean pollution and climate change to life in a war-torn country.

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