How (not) to name your campaign

You can’t do anything these days without a catchy hashtag. But naming your campaign, whether in public health or any other area, has of course always been an important issue. I’ve recently become fascinated by the names for the concept of not drinking alcohol in January, or some other month. Often known as “Dry January”, there are many other names for the idea. I will share all the ones I’m aware of here (and if you know any others, please leave a comment!).

One reason for my interest is that this seems to be a relatively new thing in the UK, whereas I had always assumed it was an old thing. I grew up in Finland, and January abstinence has been a common habit there for as long as I can remember (i.e. decades rather than years). The earliest example of a campaign like this that I’ve come across is also from Finland, from as long ago as 1942. In the middle of World War II, the Finnish government decided that alcohol use was a serious threat to the war effort, and launched a propaganda campaign for a “sober January”. The current Finnish public health campaign is called “dropless January” (or tipaton tammikuu) by the way; “a drop” being a slang term for drink.

In the English speaking world there are many competing names, some better than others. There are even two competing UK fundraising campaigns. “Dry January” is the official Alcohol Concern campaign, but the term is generally used also by people who do no fundraising with their sobriety. Cancer Research run a separate campaign, “Dryathlon”. The participants are called “dryathletes”. Both of these words are copyrighted/trademarked. But they have one major problem as Twitter hashtags: they are often misspelled. So much so in fact, that the most common misspellings of them have also been trending, along with the original words. Not ideal for reaching your audience and maximising your impact.

In the US, “Drynuary” seems to be the most popular term, coined by two writers who have been writing about their experiences since 2007. Someone has also come up with “Banuary”, a word also used for dropping (or banning) pleasures other than booze. And for non-January non-drinkers there is also “Stoptober”. All are at least half-way decent puns I suppose. But I am not at all surprised that “Janopause”, apparently coined by the Daily Mail, never took on as a word in common use. And in the US, “Dryuary” is a fundraising campaign run for the first time in 2015 by Moderation Management. The pronounciation of that word is, well, I’ll just let you try it out for yourself!

So there we have them. Several words for the same thing. If I had to pick one, or make a prediction about longevity, I’d say “Dry January” is my favourite – it is simple, clear and easy to understand – and to use as a hashtag!


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