The Intangibles

Creating messages and distributing those messages to your audience will only effect so much change. There are certain intangible influences that will moderate how much change you will see. These include securing community buy-in, causing shifts in language, generating buzz, and stretching the finite dollars.

As you will recall, when we started our social norms project, we had the backing of the community and university. We involved members of the community in our Action Team and in our social norms project, and we have included them in our evaluations and successes. We hold annual stakeholder meetings that give us the opportunity to show where we are being successful and to gain feedback that might increase the effects of our future campaigns. By being inclusive rather than exclusive, not only have we gained invaluable advice from the community, but we have also come to mutual understandings about the goals and outcomes of our program.

This mutual understanding has allowed us to shift the language surrounding our alcohol campaigns. Many campaigns focus on stigmatizing harmful behavior. For example, we have all seen ads that provide us with statistics such as “Every 30 minutes someone is killed by a drunk driver.” In many ways, ads such as those normalize drunk driving by making it seem that drunk driving is far more prevalent than it is. Our ads instead focus on the actual norms. For example, one of our ads states, “74 percent choose not to drive after drinking, even if they have only one drink.” By securing community buy-in, shifts in language become community wide, standardizing the messages that are sent out. These standardized messages should cause more change than a diverse group of messages sent by different entities.

In addition to securing community buy-in and shifting the language, we have also attempted to generate buzz surrounding our program. We create press releases that emphasize the progress we are making and maintain the consistent shifts in language. Many times newspapers and news stories sensationalize the outcomes of a few bad decisions by a few individuals. Our releases, however, focus on the progress we are making overall and the many good decisions made by the majority of students.