About halfway through the spring semester, students surge beaches nationwide. Whether they’re staying in a hotel, a friend’s house or a ritzy condo they’re primarily there for one reason — to party.
Even before the glorified MTV Spring Break segments, there had been a strong societal emphasis on going “buck wild” during the week-long vacation among college students. Spring break has often been perceived as a week away from school in which students can push inhibitions and morals to the way-side and engage in overconsumption. This spring break’s unofficial motto nationwide was Y.O.L.O, an acronym for “you only live once.”
“I think spring break is about relaxing, having a good time and having a few drinks,” said Sydney Allen, a college senior.
Allen is not alone in her perception of spring break. According to Patrick, Morgan, Maggs and Lefkowitz (2011), “during spring break, 45 percent of students reported any alcohol use and 31 percent of students reported at least one episode of binge drinking.”
“Spring break is one of the occasions in the life of college students where drinking can be a focal point,” said Teri Henley, instructor of advertising and public relations at The University of Alabama.
Changing the public’s perception, whether it’s about a client or a societal norm, is one of the key functions of public relations.
LessThanUThink, a student-generated, anti-binge drinking campaign, attempts to do just that.
LTUT, which was originally piloted at The University of Alabama, addresses the national issue of college-age binge drinking. Funded by The Century Council and The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association on behalf of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, LTUT informs college-age students about the social and physical consequences of overconsumption.
“I know that social norms have a powerful impact on thought and behavior, so changing people’s perceptions about what is normal can really help,” said Captain Hal Taylor, assistant director of special operations for the Alabama ABC Board Enforcement Division. “I think the more students see how much people are talking about binge drinking maybe they will change how they see it as well, in a positive way.”
During their spring break implementation, the LTUT team intended to alter students’ thoughts about spring break and drinking habits by addressing them at the point of consumption.
LessThanUThink’s approach is simple — make the campaign’s message relatable. For PR practitioners, this means spreading the key message in a way that allows the target audience to become engaged and connected with the message on a deeper level.
LTUT plays off of the social consequences that occur when students binge drink, such as “You think you won’t lose your six pack. And you wouldn’t. Five drinks ago.” By using this approach, LTUT highlights the negative social consequences of overconsumption in a comedic manner. This style allows individuals to recognize the disconnect between their actions when sober and drunk.
One of the key ways to persuade a specific public is to use members of it to address their peers. Unlike many professionally run, responsible-choice campaigns, LTUT is a student-run and generated campaign, a tactic that has served the campaign well.
“When students speak to each other on the subject, they are more likely to have credibility where professionals are often seen as speaking down to students or not really understanding the situation,” said Henley. “It is edgy and relevant speaking to students in language they can relate to.”
While on break, the LTUT team attempted to address their target audiences by entering the world of a college spring-breaker. They went to popular bars and beaches, along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, to reach students at the point of consumption.
LTUT informed spring breakers about the negative social consequences of overconsumption by distributing promotional materials that either linked to its website or provided the definition of binge drinking.
“One of the fundamental jobs for a PR person is to figure out the most effective way to reach their target,” said Sam Nathews, director of media relations for LTUT. “For a college student in a bar, the most effective way, without annoying them or turning them off to the message, is to hand them a free item that contains your message.”
As demonstrated by LTUT, it’s imperative for any successful campaign to reach the target audience at a point of relevance. Seeking a campaign’s exact demographic and entering that sphere makes the message more personable for the audience. Within their month-long campaign implementation, LTUT received more than 10,000 hits to their website, ltut.org, and 667 new Facebook followers. During spring break, the team also gave away nearly 5,000 promotional items such as koozies, T-shirts and frisbees.
Some campaigns try too hard to focus on several target audiences, which causes their message to become too diverse and unappealing. The main reason for LTUT’s continued success is that it has a strong understanding of its audience, and constantly evolves the way it reaches them.
Patrick, M. E., Morgan, N., Maggs, J. L., & Lefkowitz, E. S. (2011). “I Got Your Back”: Friends’ Understandings regarding College Student Spring Break Behavior. Journal Of Youth And Adolescence, 40(1), 108-120.