Thursday, February 01, 2007

Social Norms Marketing

Is “social norms marketing” what I have been looking for? It appears to be a unifying approach to addressing an array of social problems leading to death and other problems.

Instead of using “health terrorism” or attempting to “scare the health into people”, you educate them about what their peer norms are and work to promote conformity with that health norm. For example, instead of telling folks that 25% of youths binge drink, you tell them that 75% don’t, building social pressure to minimize drinking, particularly in underage drinkers.

Attempting to frighten individuals into positive change by pushing the negative consequences of certain behaviors has “not changed behavior one percent”. Using “social norms marketing”, however, has demonstrated effectiveness by correcting misperceptions (usually overestimations of use), and identifying and promoting the healthy, protective behaviors that are the actual norm in a given group of folks (teens or adults).

One study demonstrated a 21% reduction of heavy drinking in a college population using “social norm marketing” techniques. There was also a significant decrease in consequences of drinking (e.g. property damage and unprotected sex) pointing to decrease in drinking among those that continued to drink when they had a real handle on the number of drinks that were “normal” in social situations and that not “everyone drinks”.

Social norm marketing has demonstrated effectiveness in a number of issues (although it has been mostly studied in its affect on underage drinking and heavy drinking among college students). It has shown promise in seat-belt use, smoking, spousal violence and grade improvement. My mind races in considering other “targets” (e.g. convincing parents that it’s not OK to throw alcohol available parties for their kids).

Promote health to increase health. Accentuate the positive. Show folks what the real “peer pressure” (social norm) is not taking chances, not making bad choices, but making “healthy choices”.

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