Contact: Meredith Dickenson or Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
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April 2003

Survey Shows the Binge-Drinking Myth

Last spring SMU's Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention surveyed students to determine high-risk behavior. The survey found that most students make responsible choices about drinking, but they suspect their peers don't. Seventy-five percent of the students say they average five or fewer drinks in one sitting. More than 100 other universities have seen similar results from their own student surveys, according to the National Social Norms Research Center. These results did not surprise the authors of the study. They say students tend to overestimate how much and how often their peers drink. By launching a student advertising campaign that addresses this gap, they hope to substitute perceptions with the reality.

  • The majority of SMU students drink once a week or less;
  • Have not missed a class due to drinking;
  • Have not gotten into a fight due to drinking;
  • Do not drink and drive -- ever;
  • Have never been in trouble with authorities due to drinking (on or off campus).

Just Say No Means Yes to Teens

A "Just Say No" approach to drinking is not effective with a post-Seinfeld generation. Irony and wit work best with college students. The New York ad agency Mad Dogs and Englishman conducts focus groups of teens and found that they are influenced by realistic images and information about substance abuse. "The ultimatum message is too flip, too naive for this age group," says Alice Kendrick, Ph.D., SMU professor of advertising. "Teens today understand the grayness of social issues. They're smart enough to know that there is such a thing as responsible drinking."

If peer pressure encourages college students to drink, could it also work the other way? That's the strategy behind the advertising campaign being launched this month. Advertisements will soon cover the SMU campus with the message "Congratulations. Welcome to the Majority" to show that drinking responsibly is the norm for most students.

Steal this Image

Reaching this audience requires a bold advertising strategy, one in which drinking is not ignored, but addressed head on. Patricia Alvey, Ph.D., director of the Temerlin Advertising Institute, asked her senior advanced portfolio class to produce three campaigns. She wanted ads so good, so witty and so visually arresting that students will steal them. The first of these campaigns will feature a poster-size photo of a comatose young man, his face scrawled with art work, the victim of a campus prank. The tagline reads: "A Few Students Were Drunk Last Week. The Rest of Us Have the Pictures to Prove It."

Possible Interviews:

  • Robin Barker, SMU sophomore and a member of the SMU Social Norms Committee, can talk about his generation's attitude toward drinking and the impact of peer pressure.
  • Patricia Alvey, Ph.D., distinguished chair and director of Temerlin Advertising Institute, can talk about executing the strategy behind the advertising campaign.
  • Alice Kendrick, Ph.D., professor of advertising in the Temerlin Advertising Institute, can talk about advertising to teenagers and college students and the strategy used to test these ads.
  • John Sanger, director of SMU's Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, can talk about social norms campaigns and the SMU survey of high-risk behaviors.

Click on the photos below to view or download high-resolution .jpg versions.

Social Norms Poster: Being Drunk is Funny Social Norms Poster: Five Drinks in a Single Night is Crazy Social Norms Poster: A Few SMU Students were Drunk Last Week