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2 min read

Social Norms: Harnessing Positive Peer Pressure for Change

At Marketing Partners, we’ve worked on dozens of social awareness and behavior change campaigns. (Secretly, they are my favorite kind of campaign!) Our social marketing programs are created to help people make better choices like quit smoking, avoid underage drinking and practice diabetes self care and prevention. The overall goal of a social marketing campaign is to improve society (pretty great, huh?). AND the campaigns are research-based – what’s not to love?

Image of a mamma duck followed by a flock of ducklings

One highly effective behavior-change model is the social norms approach. Simply described, an individual is more likely to act on the perception that a certain behavior or attitude is widely practiced or held by the majority of people. You see this approach used heavily amongst college and high school kids when discussing smoking and drinking. Social norms aim to correct misconceptions by highlighting the actual truth through research. As a teen, it may seem that everyone smokes, but this is far from the truth. In order to change behavior and effect positive change, social norms campaigns can be both effective and eye opening by pointing out the simple truth.

 Social Norms in Action

Backed by research, social norms campaigns highlight the desired behavior and steer away from fear and scare tactics. I recommend you check out these four classic, compelling (and entertaining) social marketing campaigns.

  1. Montana's "MOST of Us Don’t Drink and Drive" campaign:

The Montana Department of Transportation used a social norms theory to aim an anti-drinking and driving message to adults aged 21-34. They found this age group was highly perceived as the group involved in the majority of alcohol-related crashes. They used a simple tagline: 4 out of 5 young adults don’t drink and drive. It was simple yet effective.

  1. Government of Saskatchewan

The Ministry of Health in Canada developed a social marketing campaign aimed at youth and parents. They begin with polling research to get a gauge on the target audience’s perceptions on alcohol use. They used the polling research to target four main areas of need: underage drinking, binge drinking and parents and youths in grade 7-12. They developed effective posters and various campaign materials that were eye-catching and effective.

  1. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

Dove soap made a splash when they celebrated “real” women in their campaign materials. They developed the campaign based on their study of young girls and the pressure they feel to “be beautiful.” They also conducted a study of women, aged 50-64, who believe it’s time for society to change their view on aging.  Back in 2004, their initial research proved that only 2% of women around the world considered themselves beautiful. They also developed a self-esteem campaign targeting parents and adults based on the research that 6 out of 10 young girls quit doing what they like because they are concerned about they way they look. Dove's goal is to establish a new social norm for female beauty.

  1. True Majority – Ben’s Oreos

We all know Ben Cohen is passionate about social change—and he’s always gone about it with a sweet tooth. He has joined with True Majority to develop a campaign to highlight the disproportionate allocation of funds by the Federal Government toward the military. In this video, he uses Oreos (“there’s that sweet tooth”) to highlight the inequality of the Pentagon’s budget in comparison to everything else. The campaign is built on solid facts and has an explicit call to action with a sense of urgency — join the majority now.


photo via flickr
AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by ratsinis
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