The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Brand Strategy Out-of-home Media Planning and Buying

Inside the unusual brief for Alcoholics Anonymous’ first nation-wide campaign


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

July 1, 2024 | 7 min read

How do you run an ad campaign when you can’t promote an organization? Here’s how one agency answered an ‘unusual’ brief from the world’s biggest sobriety charity.

Billboard in situ

Some billboards have no mention of alcohol / The Raised Eyebrow Society

Alcoholics Anonymous is to run its first UK-wide advertising campaign, but by virtue of being an anonymous organization, the ads have no logo, no phone number, no links and some even have no mention of alcohol.

Since its inception in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous has ensured its public relations follow the rule of ‘attraction rather than promotion.’ This puts a lot of constraints on what the organization can and can’t say about itself, where it can advertise and how it interacts with the media.

The organization has one purpose: “Alcoholics Anonymous is solely concerned with the recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who seek our help.” The campaign’s objective is purely to attract more people who are struggling with alcohol so they can get support from the AA community.

Powered by AI

Explore frequently asked questions

The digital out-of-home campaign came about when media owner JCDecaux approached Alcoholics Anonymous as part of its charity initiative, which gives charities free ad space. JCDecaux then approached the agency The Raised Eyebrow Society to create the ads.

Pete Cain is co-founder and creative director at The Raised Eyebrow Society. He tells The Drum that removing of the logo was a “huge undertaking,” but says: “We believe the target audience will understand the two As represent Alcoholics Anonymous given the context of the messages. AA is the brand, so adding the logo, which is essentially just another two As, seemed superfluous. It makes the posters stand out as well, which is a prerequisite for any poster to be effective.”

“Posters aren’t the best way to reach people in truth,” Cain says, but it’s one of the few media methods open to Alcoholics Anonymous. The organization can’t use social media, for example, because people can inadvertently out themselves or out someone else if they’re sharing stuff and tagging. “There is a tone of challenges that come with aligning with the purpose of the organization and how modern communication works,” says Cain. “It has held those rules and worked around it ever since.”

Read between the lines

Ready when you are billboard in situ

Each poster has a blurred-out message, with the only letters visible being two As to help viewers identify the ads as the AA. Messages include: ‘Alcohol isn’t the Answer’, ‘LeArn to live without Alcohol’ and ‘ReAdy when you Are.’

“The analogy being that this is the perspective of life through alcoholic blurred eyes and the AA is the clarity that can help you maintain or arrive at sobriety,” Cain explains. “People won’t necessarily think that deeply about it, but of course, we have a rationale for everything we do.”

Some ads explicitly mention alcohol, but others say encouraging messages like ‘You Are not Alone’ and ‘There is A better wAy of living’. Cain recounts some debate over whether every poster should mention alcohol, but in the end, decided it wasn’t necessary to get the message across. “Great ads leave you with a bit of work to do,” says Cain, but also adds: “It’s a little bit subjective and it is yet to be proved.”

Since Alcoholics Anonymous is a peer-led organization, decisions are made by committee at a once-a-year conference. The initial 30 posters were approved at that conference, but since it’s an annual event, no changes can be made to what was agreed upon.

The campaign is nation-wide but has a higher concentration of placements in London. Again, due to the sensitive nature and because people who need Alcoholics Anonymous’ help could be anywhere, no targeting is involved.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

The posters will run in “bursts,” with the first nine rolling out this week (July 1–July 7) during Alcoholics Awareness Week. Then, there will be two subsequent bursts in Oct and Dec, culminating with a five-week run between Boxing Day and January 31, 2025.

Cain acknowledges it will be a tricky campaign to measure the impact. Without a number or a website link or code, it will be hard to understand if someone reached out for help after seeing the billboard. Cain adds that it would be inappropriate to survey people coming into Alcoholics Anonymous about whether they saw the ads. “The AA is going to do its best with tracking it and all I can hope is it is significant to show that it worked.”

Unlike other projects he’s worked on with clear KPIs and a lot of testing, Cain is yet to know how the campaign will land but that is OK with him. “It’s an unusual campaign with an unusual set of conditions for an unusual organization that does incredible work.”

Brand Strategy Out-of-home Media Planning and Buying

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +