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The Student-Led Fight Against Binge Drinking

Posted At: November 1, 2010 11:19 AM
by Megan Cotton

The college-aged population has always been resistant to anti-binge drinking campaigns. To solve this problem, The Century Council, a nonprofit organization that fights against drunk driving and underage drinking, worked to find aneffective communication strategy.

During National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, Oct. 17-23, the council presented new research about the most effective communication strategies for anti-binge drinking messages. The research, conducted by the independent consulting firm Egg Strategy, provides insight for reaching this difficult public:

—Students don’t like the term binge drinking or the definition of four to five drinks in two hours.

—Campaigns need to focus on feelings of drinking, not the number of drinks.

—Scare tactics are not effective and are less likely to inspire a behavior change in students.

These findings coordinate with campaigns at The University of Alabama, The University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, George Washington University and Ohio University, all funded by The Century Council. In 2009, the council joined with the American Advertising Federation’s National Student Advertising Competition. The Century Council then chose four campaigns from the competition they believed had potential to work nationally. These schools each received a $75,000 grant to implement their campaigns and test the effectiveness.

At The University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, the students’ campaign focuses on the social and reputation repercussions of binge drinking. “The Other Hangover” illustrates the regret of the morning after a night of heavy drinking to prevent students from overdoing it. The team hopes to achieve its goal of reducing binge drinking and changing attitudes on campus.

“Research shows that scare tactics don’t work on college-aged students,” said project adviser Nathan Gilkerson. “We don’t focus on things like liver damage, DUIs or any legal consequences of drinking. We found the most resonant message is one that focuses on hurt relationships and reputation damage.”

The campaign used posters, billboards, sidewalk clings and give-a-way cards to drive people to its website and Facebook page.

“We’ve been extremely effective in getting student recognition of the campaign,” said Gilkerson. “We’re hoping at the end of the campaign our research shows a change in drinking behavior.”

At The University of Alabama, the LessThanUThink campaign promotes the message that it takes less than you think to over consume alcohol. The campaign focuses on educating students about the negative social consequences of binge drinking. Instead of using a typical anti-drinking message, the campaign depicts real-life scenarios that result after drinking too much, for example: “U think you can dance. And you could. Three drinks ago,” or “U think you have good pick up lines. And you did. Four drinks ago.”

“Reaching students in a different way is important to make an impact,” said Amanda Coppock, the media relations coordinator. “We wanted to take a new direction and a creative approach to reach a target market that is so overwhelmed with the same anti-drinking messages.”

The LessThanUThink campaign relied mostly on guerrilla marketing and social networking to promote the campaign and to get students talking. The team worked to reach students not only on campus but also at bars, where the campaign met students at the point of consumption.

“Doing the unexpected has made a name for LessThanUThink and gotten students talking about us,” said Coppock. “For our campaign kick-off we placed 4,000 neon stress-balls on the Quad and organized a flash-mob in the Ferg [Student Union]. We recently hosted a Facebook scavenger hunt, where students took as many pictures of our merchandise as possible, and the winner won an iPad; by the end we had more than 2,000 photos.”

By using different techniques, LessThanUThink found it easy to engage students and make them more receptive to the campaign and the message.

“LessThanUThink isn’t telling students not to drink,” Coppock said. “We know that message would be ignored because it is unrealistic. Instead, we’re aiming to make students aware of the negative social consequences that can come from drinking too much.”

After each school pilots its campaign, The Century Council will evaluate the campaign’s effectiveness to see if one has the potential to work nationally.

These campaigns follow the idea that students will know how to reach students. They understand what will work on their campuses and what won’t.

So if students are the experts on how to communicate to students, how can more organizations use their expertise in campaigns?

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