College kids educate each other about the perils of overdrinking

Founded in 1991, The Century Council is a nonprofit dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.

Client The Century Council (Arlington, VA)

PR agency The Capstone Agency, Univ. of Alabama's student-run PR firm (Tuscaloosa, AL)

Campaign LessThanUThink

Duration May 15-November 30

Budget $75,000 (includes ads)

Founded in 1991, The Century Council is a nonprofit dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking. In an effort to generate student insight and varied approaches, the council asked the American Advertising Federation - and it agreed - to focus its 2009 national student ad competition on combating alcohol overconsumption among college students.

The University of Alabama's ad team won second place with its LessThanUThink campaign, one of four the council selected to fund.

"We felt student-generated ideas would provide us new and different thinking," says Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of The Century Council. "You must increase awareness and change attitudes. That doesn't happen by just seeing ads, so it ends up residing on the PR side."

The Capstone Agency, the student-run PR firm that consists of 15 PR and ad students, executed the campaign.

Strategy

Allison Cook, student coordinator for LessThanUThink, says the effort focused on the negative consequences of overconsumption, offered insight on moderation in general, and promoted smart choices. "Scare tactics didn't resonate," she explains, adding that humor helped get messaging across.

On- and off-campus events, LessThanUThink.org, and traditional and social media outreach drove messages, as did ads on campus and around town.

Tactics

A soft launch occurred during Welcome Week in August. The team manned booths and disseminated materials, including a freshman newsletter that provided advice on drinking and other lifestyle issues.

The official launch was on September 1-2. Numerous tactics included filling the campus quad with 4,000 branded stress balls and a 50-member flash mob in the student union.

LessThanUThink.org includes educational information, event details, media coverage, and links to Facebook and Twitter pages. The team also created three PSA-style videos and posted them on YouTube.

Contests were hosted on Facebook and Twitter, including weekly LessThanUThink slogan contests, a photo scavenger hunt, and a video contest.

Campus, local, and national media were pitched event announcements, binge drinking facts, and lifestyle tips.

Results

The council deems this effort a success, says Blackman, because it initiated new dialogue and will serve as a "guiding light" for efforts at other schools.

A post-campaign survey of 909 students conducted by the agency team showed 73% were familiar with the campaign and 31% could correctly identify the definition of binge drinking (up from 7% of 676 students surveyed in 2009). Additionally, 41% of 2010 respondents were likely to consider negative social consequences of binge drinking.

Website views total 3,443. The effort drew 557 Facebook fans and 312 Twitter followers, exceeding the goal of 300 per channel. YouTube videos got 3,167 views. The photo scavenger hunt netted 2,000 submissions.

Total event attendance was about 5,000, while 26,000-plus branded items were given away.

Overall media impressions exceeded 4.28 million, with coverage in outlets such as ABC, CBS, and Yahoo News. The freshman newsletter reached 5,500 people.

Future

The council intends to post and disseminate details and results of each campaign. Blackman believes "a few" additional student efforts will be funded in 2011.

Cook's team is developing materials to help other schools execute similar campaigns. Margaret Garner, director of the university's department of health promotion and wellness, says she's committed to continuing the campaign.

Simply noting that it's easier than you think to cross the line into excess and focusing on how alcohol overconsumption can thwart social, academic, and physical desires is a brilliant concept. Tactics frankly addressed undesirable outcomes with humor and without being alienating. Adaptability was also a key to success - a point The Century Council well understands and a driving factor behind its seeking student insight and varied, tailored approaches. This effort is a great foundational resource for peer-to-peer engagement on the issue.

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