Social Norms Marketing Reduces High School Drinking

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Social norms marketing is an effective method of reducing tobacco use and alcohol consumption among high school students. High schools in Evanston and Naperville, Illinois, which have been among the first in the country to utilize a social norms model on the high school level, have witnessed significant reductions after just two years.

"The success among a growing number of colleges and universities in achieving significant reductions in high-risk drinking and related harmful behavior has paved the way for the social norms approach to be applied successfully in high schools and communities," said Michael Haines, Director of the National Social Norms Resource Center. "We have developed a guidebook...so that high schools across the country can implement their own successful social norms campaigns."

A Guide to Marketing Social Norms for Health Promotion is the first comprehensive, step-by-step manual for those who are interested in using the social norms approach to address school age and community-wide issues. The guide explains in depth the five stages necessary for a successful social norms campaign, including initial planning, data collection, strategy development, implementation and evaluation.

“Strength in Numbers" was launched in November 2001 targeting Evanston Township (IL) High Schools' students, parents and staff. The campaign included a yearly survey developed by the Center for Prevention Research and Development at the University of Illinois, focus groups conducted periodically throughout the year, and postcards, ads and promotional items displayed and distributed throughout the community. After the second year of implementation, data showed a 25% reduction in the proportion of students who use tobacco regularly and an 11% reduction in the proportion of students who drink alcohol regularly. Due to the initial success, the campaign is now expanding to include middle school students and their parents.

The Naperville social norms marketing campaign also began in 2001. A survey of a random sample of 9-11th grade students indicated that students thought that only 9% of students their age never smoke, when in reality, 75% reported they do not smoke cigarettes. Seeking to correct this misperception, students were targeted with a poster campaign for the next 16 months, after which they were resurveyed. Results show a 7% reduction in perceived peer tobacco use and an 8% reduction in actual tobacco use. A new campaign, focusing on underage drinking, began in January 2004 and will continue for the next four years.

"Social norms is truly a cost-effective method of achieving widespread results that focuses on positive behaviors as opposed to scare tactics," remarked Haines. "We are encouraged by these early findings and hope for additional successes in the other communities, such as the two in Massachusetts participating in the Social Norms Alcohol Problem Prevention for Youth (SNAPPY) project, experimenting with the social norms model."

 

The National Social Norms Resource Center is an independent center that supports, promotes and provides technical assistance in the application of the social norms approach to a broad range of health, safety and social justice issues, including alcohol-related risk-reduction and the prevention of tobacco use. It is the only national center devoted exclusively to the understanding and use of the social norms approach. Opened on July 1, 2000, the Center is directed by Michael Haines, a nationally recognized proponent and pioneering practitioner of the social norms approach. For more information, visit "http://www.socialnorm.org".

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