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J Stud Alcohol Suppl. 2002 Mar;(14):182-92.

The role of mass media campaigns in reducing high-risk drinking among college students.

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Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts 02118, USA.



This article categorizes and describes current media campaigns to reduce college student drinking, reviews key principles of campaign design and outlines recommendations for future campaigns.


The article describes three types of media campaigns on student drinking: information, social norms marketing, and advocacy. Key principles of campaign design are derived from work in commercial marketing, advertising, and public relations and from evaluations of past public health campaigns.


Information campaigns on the dangers of high-risk drinking are common, but none has been rigorously evaluated. Quasi-experimental studies suggest that social norms marketing campaigns, which correct misperceptions of campus drinking norms, may be effective, but more rigorous research is needed. As of this writing, only one major media campaign has focused on policy advocacy to reduce college student drinking, but it is still being evaluated. Lessons for campaign design are organized as a series of steps for campaign development, implementation and assessment: launch a strategic planning process, select a strategic objective, select the target audience, develop a staged approach, define the key promise, avoid fear appeals, select the right message source, select a mix of media channels, maximize media exposure, conduct formative research, and conduct process and outcome evaluations.


Future campaigns should integrate information, social norms marketing, and advocacy approaches to create a climate of support for institutional, community and policy changes that will alter the environment in which students make decisions about their alcohol consumption.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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