online advertising and AAThe article below ‘Online Advertising and AA – An Opportunity too Good to Miss?’ was written by the South Midlands Regional ECLO in November 2017. The opinions expressed below are those of the author only and do not represent the opinions of either South Midlands Region or any of its’ constituent Intergroups.


Traditionally, Alcoholics Anonymous has had a mixed record when it comes to advertising. While there have been hundreds of successful projects where advertising of one form or another has been used, many projects have often been short-lived or have fizzled out owing to a lack of measurable results or definable goals.

Many Intergroups and committees have also come up against the vociferous minority claiming that AA simply cannot advertise for fear of breaking traditions eleven or six. These are sincere concerns and often heartfelt but are based on misunderstanding. Tradition six reminds us to avoid affiliation and some have felt that advertising on platforms like Yahoo or in local papers implies affiliation. It is my feeling that this fear can be allayed by remembering that using a telephone number for AA is not viewed as meaning we affiliate with BT any more than holding meetings in church halls means we support the Christian faith. Using a service in itself does not imply affiliation.

Tradition eleven reminds us that ‘our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion’. I have encountered many members who have read this to mean that we must not advertise. By looking at either the PI Handbook (USA) and the Service Handbook (UK) it quickly becomes clear that that is not the case by the amount of guidance on advertising. Looking at the long form of tradition eleven is often helpful here too. It states explicitly that we avoid sensational advertising. If we were to avoid advertising altogether, our ability to carry the message would be dangerously handicapped.

This brings me to what I feel is the next phase in increasing awareness of our programme and fellowship. In quarter one of 2017 89% of UK adult citizens had recently used the internet (source: ONS). People increasingly use the internet to shop, read the news and transact business, often using the internet exclusively for these and many other tasks. Local newspapers are certainly still read and so they remain a useful avenue for advertising, but their readership is declining rapidly.

But how then do we carry the message online? The national website has pages directed at the newcomer as do many Intergroup websites and these frequently appear when people search for help using a search engine. However, depending on the search terms used, so do many other results. How then do we ensure that Alcoholics Anonymous is seen as an option for someone seeking help? Especially someone who may have never heard of AA? By using online advertising. This can take the form of text adverts on search engines, picture adverts on other websites or adverts on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

By targeting appropriately worded adverts, respectful to tradition eleven, to those that are searching for help it is possible to raise awareness of Alcoholics Anonymous as an option. Thinking that online advertising could only ever be undertaken by GSO is untrue, after all, we wouldn’t think the same about local newspaper advertising and this has been undertaken for decades. Perhaps it actually ought to be the remit of the Intergroup to arrange advertising of this kind.

This suggestion often raises the concern that it is probably too complicated, too time consuming or too costly. With certain types of advertising this is certainly true. There are, however, a number of easier options, such as Google AdWords Express, that seek to simplify the process and are remarkably easy to use. Adverts can be targeted at people strictly within a certain area or areas and only appear to those seeking help. These adverts can be set up to link to the newcomers page on the national website or the equivalent on local websites. Results can be measured and for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a day an Intergroup can have an effective, targeted and cost effective ongoing awareness campaign. It is also possible to create a step-by-step guide to demonstrate how to begin with such services. Something I would be happy to do should the need arise.

Intergroups can start with a simple goal like increasing awareness but as experience increases or more skilled members arrive, ads can be linked to analytics services and more detailed goals such as having a person click the local or national phone number can be implemented and measured. It is true that a goal of increased awareness is hard to measure, but as online ads are only charged if clicked on, AA can often get increased awareness on these services without any cost at all.

Clearly any work like this will often require both an ECLO and PILO to work together. It is my belief that in order to reach suffering alcoholics where they are, there is an increasingly urgent need to raise the awareness of our fellowship online. Online advertising offers an excellent opportunity to do this.

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Online Advertising and AA – An Opportunity too Good to Miss?
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