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
"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".
- National Social Norms Resource Center;
The Bacchus and Gamma Peer Education Network.
- 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),
- 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,
- 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,
- Hanson, D. J. Effectiveness of specific public policies on substance
abuse prevention. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 1996,
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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,