Select Page

Reducing Substance Use With Social Norms Marketing

What is Social Norms Marketing?

Social Norms Marketing or Social Norms Campaigns are techniques to decrease and prevent alcohol and drug use in students.

Social Norms Marketing is based on research that indicates youth hold exaggerated beliefs about the normal frequency and consumption habits of other students in regards to alcohol and drug use (i.e. “Everyone at this school smokes pot”).

These misperceptions are almost always greater than the actual levels of use and have been shown to increase the likelihood that a student will engage in unhealthy behaviors. Social Norms Campaigns assert that correcting these misperceptions will lead students to align their behavior with that of the social work social norms marketingSurveying

The first step in developing a Social Norms Campaign is to collect data about the perceived and actual levels of substance use. It may also be helpful to assess attitudes about drug and alcohol use such as reasons students give for not using substances.

Creating a survey from scratch is difficult. Fortunately, there are a number of surveys in existence that are free or low-cost.

If you happen to work in Illinois, the Center for Prevention Research and Development (CPRD) at the University of Illinois provides an excellent survey. The Illinois Youth Survey is for students in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades; is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education, and is free to all public schools. For the sample survey click here.

CPRD also provides a more specific Social Norms Marketing survey which includes data analysis on the discrepancies between perceptions and actual behaviors as well as suggestions for campaign targets, but the service is at a cost. For more information about this survey visit:

If you happen to live outside of Illinois and are wanting a no-cost solution, you can utilize the sample surveys from the above resources to develop your own survey. Alternatively, Hobart and William Smith Colleges offers an online survey tool that is low-cost and evaluates a wider scope of behaviors. Information about their survey is found social work social norms marketingCreating the Campaign

Information from the survey is used to discover the misperceptions of students. After the discrepancies are identified, a target messages needs to be crafted. The rule of thumb is to focus on the pro-social behaviors that are exhibited by at least 51% of the surveyed participants.

For example, “7 out of 1o students don’t smoke cigarettes” vs. “Only 3 out of 10 students smoke cigarettes”.

The next step is to create a “brand” for the campaign. This includes developing a title and a logo that is present on all the materials. The two campaigns I worked with were “The Power of Choice” and “My Voice, My Choice“.

Lastly, the mediums for delivering the target message need to be identified and distributed. Here is a non-exhaustive list of ways to disseminate the campaign messages:2012_13_2_jeopardizefutureplans2

  • Posters
  • Flyers
  • Mailers
  • Community Presentations
  • Print/visual advertising
  • Radio
  • Promotional items (magnets, pens, water bottles, key chains, stress balls, screen savers)

This article is an overview of Social Norms Marketing. There is a significant body of research about how to run an effective campaign. A more in-depth description of  Social Norms Marketing can be found at the following:

National Social Norms Institute
The Social Norms Approach
Social Norms National Resource Center



About The Author

Scott Carchedi

Scott Carchedi is the founder and co-editor of SSWN. Scott provides technology support and consultative services to school social work associations across the US. Scott is also a practicing school social worker in the western suburbs of Chicago, serving grades 9-12.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest