Social Norms Marketing is Highly Effective

The largest nationwide study of college students to date shows that reducing misperceptions of peer behavior significantly reduces high-risk (so-called “binge”) drinking and its negative consequences. The National College Health Assessment Survey was administered between 2000 and 2003 and included more than 76,000 students at 130 colleges and universities.

"The study clearly demonstrates that students' perceptions of the drinking norms on their campus is by far the strongest predictor of the amount of alcohol personally consumed," said Michael Haines, Director of the National Social Norms Resource Center. "Furthermore, colleges whose prevention efforts reduce students' misperceptions of peer drinking reduce high-risk drinking and negative consequences. That is what social norms campaigns are designed to do."

Social norms methodology is the widely discussed method of public health promotion based on communicating accurate information about the prevalence of healthy behavior in order to produce more healthy behavior.

"It was particularly interesting to note that at over 90% of schools, prevention program information is not associated with reducing misperceptions," said H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and co-presenter of the study. "In fact, many prevention programs actually inflate misperceptions, leading to increases in drinking behaviors."

Social Norms College Case Studies

Florida State University (FSU) is a large public institution with 37,000 students that has used an integrated approach to reducing high-risk drinking. Its social norms efforts were integrated across the FSU campus, encompassing everything from administrative offices to residence halls and student governments. The campaign has resulted in a 15% reduction in high-risk drinking among male students and a 5% reduction among female students since 2002.

Another highly successful implementation was used to promote health among college-student athletes. Two projects, one at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, and one at five Division III schools that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), were launched in 2001 to test the possibility of reducing misperceptions of high student-athlete alcohol and tobacco use in order to increase positive behaviors.

The campaigns, which included anonymous web-based surveys, print and electronic marketing materials, and peer education seminars, resulted in an average 32% reduction in the proportion of student-athletes drinking more than once per week, as well as an average 29.5% reduction in the proportion of student- athletes experiencing frequent negative consequences due to drinking during the academic term.

"Health practitioners are increasingly understanding the potent influence of the peer group on individual behaviors and as such, are using social norms theory with greater frequency," remarked Perkins. "Another example of an effective use of the social norms approach is Montana's “Most of Us Campaign,” which has curbed impaired driving among young adults. With this and other campaigns, evidence continues to accumulate supporting the theory and its effectiveness across a wide range of social issues."

 

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".

Source:

  • National Social Norms Resource Center; The Bacchus and Gamma Peer Education Network.

References

  • Baer, J. S., et al. Biases in the perception of drinking norms among college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1991, 52, 580-586.
  • Berkowitz, Alan D. The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research and Annotated Bibliography. Trumansburg, NY, 2003.
  • DeJong, W., and Linkenbach, J. Telling it like it is: Using social norms marketing campaigns to reduce student drinking. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 1999, 52(4), 13-16.
  • Haines, Michael P. Using media to change student norms and prevent alcohol abuse: A tested model. Oregon Higher Education Alcohol and Drug Newsletter, 1993, 1(2), 1-3.
  • Haines, M. P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, Massachusetts: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996.
  • Haines, M. P., and Spear, A. F. Changing the perceptions of the norm: A strategy to decrease binge drinking among college students. Journal of American College Health, 1996, 45, 134-140.
  • Hansen, W. B., and Graham, J. W. Preventing alcohol, marijuana, and cigarette use among adolescents: Peer pressure resistance training versus establishing conservative social norms. Preventive Medicine1991, 20, 414-430.
  • Hanson, D. J. Effectiveness of specific public policies on substance abuse prevention. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 1996, 9, 235-238.
  • Johannessen, K., et al. A Practical Guide to Alcohol Abuse Prevention: A Campus Case Study in Implementing Social Norms and Environmental Management Approaches. Tucson, AZ: Campus Health Service, The University of Arizona, 1986.
    A detailed examination of the first four years of the University of Arizona's social norm campaign, which achieved a 29% reduction in heavy drinking.
  • Linkenbach, J.W. Application of social norms marketing to a variety of health issues. Wellness Management, 1999, 15(3).
  • Linkenbach, J. W. Building a Bridge: Applying the Social Norms Model to Sexual Health. The BACCHUS & GAMMA Sexual Responsibility Manual, 1999. (Available from the Bacchus & Gamma Peer Education Network, www.bacchusgamma.org.
  • Linkenbach, J.W. Imaginary Peers and the Reign of Error: Binge Drinking Prevention Through Social Norms. The Prevention Connection: A Publication of the Montana Prevention Resource Center and the Addictive and Mental Disorders Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, 1999, (3), 1-5.
  • Linkenbach, J.W. Social Norms Marketing Highlight: Drinking And Driving. In P. Kotler, N. Roberto, & N. Lee (Eds.), Social Marketing: Improving the Quality of Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (2nd Edition, 2002, pp. 162-166).
  • Linkenbach, J.W. (2002). Social Norms. In P. Kotler, N. Roberto, & N. Lee (Eds.), Social Marketing: Improving the Quality of Life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (2nd edition, 2002)
  • Linkenbach, J. W. and H. W. Perkins, "Misperceptions of Peer Alcohol Norms in a Statewide Survey of Young Adults," (2003). In: Perkins, H. Wesley (Ed) The Social Norms Approach To Preventing School And College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
    This book chapter reports the results of a statewide survey of 18 to 24 year old residents in Montana that examines actual and perceived norms for frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption and prevalence of drinking and driving. Results again reveal dramatic discrepancies between actual and perceived norms for both men and women.
  • Manoff, R.K Social Marketing: New Imperative for Public Health. Praeger Publishers, 1985.
  • Murgoff, V., et al. Moderating binge drinking. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1996, 31(6), 577.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley. Scope of the Problem: Misperceptions of alcohol and drugs. Prevention through correcting misperceptions of alcohol and other drug norms: Notes on the state of the field. Catalyst, 1995, 1(3), 1-2.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley. College Student Misperceptions of Alcohol and Other Drug Norms among Peers: Exploring Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Prevention Programs. In: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1997. Pp. 177-206.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley. Social norms and the prevention of alcohol misuse in college contexts. Journal of Studies on Alcohol Supplement No. 14, 2002.
    A review of conceptual and empirical studies on the role of social norms in college student alcohol use and in prevention strategies to counter misuse. The normative influences of various constituencies serving as reference groups for students are examined as possible factors influencing students' drinking behavior.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley, and Berkowiz, Alan D. Perceiving the community norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications for campus alcohol education programming. International Journal of Addictions, 1986, 21, 961-976.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley and Craig, David. A Multifaceted Social Norms Approach to Reduce High-Risk Drinking. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Education Development Center, Inc., 2002.
    Describes the Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Social Norms Project, which achieved a 30% reduction in high-risk drinking over 5 years. Contents include a complete description of program components, including data collection, print media campaigns, electronic media campaigns, curriculum development, and campus presentations.
  • Perkins, H. Wesley, and Wechsler, Henry. Variations in perceived college drinking norms and its impact on alcohol abuse: A nationwide study. Journal of Drug Issues, 1996, 26, 961-974.
  • Presley, C. A., et al. Alcohol and Drugs on American College Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the Campus Environment. Carbondale, Illinois: CORE Institute, 1993.
  • Wood, M. D., Nnagoshi, C. T., and Dennis, D. A. Alcohol norms and expectations as predictors of alcohol use and problems in a college student sample. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 1992, 18, 461-476.
  • Zimmerman, R. Social Marketing Strategies for Campus Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. Newton, Massachusetts: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1997.

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