Social Norms Campaign

Description of Strategy

The social norms approach to prevention is to gather credible data from a target population and then, using various health communication strategies, consistently tell that population the truth about actual norms of health, protection, and the avoidance of risk behaviors. With repeated exposure to a variety of positive, data-based messages, the misperceptions that help to sustain problem behavior are reduced, and a greater proportion of the population begins to act in accord with the more accurately perceived norms of health, protection, and safety. As the percentage of the target population that misperceives the level of peer substance use declines, the level of actual substance use in the population declines as well, even though overestimation of peer substance use will likely continue (Haines, Perkins, Rice, & Barker, 2005).

Also known as...

Positive social norming, tobacco free Wyoming communities, buzzed driving, most of us, parents act now

Discussion of Effectiveness


A systematic review (Cochrane Review, 2015) that examined 70 studies of 44,958 university and college students found social norm interventions had a small effect on binge drinking, drinking quantity, and peak BAC. Another systematic review (The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, 2014) found mixed evidence supporting the use of social norms campaigns for reducing alcohol use in school-based settings. The review also found web-based programs with computer feedback and individual face-to-face interventions were shown to be effective in reducing alcohol-related problems and alcohol consumption and positively affect social norms.


Evidence of effectiveness does not support the use of social norms campaigns targeting tobacco. A study evaluating a social norms marketing project aimed at students did not find a change in students’ attitudes or smoking behavior (Martino-McAllister & Wessel, 2005). A second study focused on youth supports the effectiveness of social norms campaigns to increase retention of prevention method, but did not analyze the effectiveness of this strategy to change attitudes or behaviors (Schmidt, Kiss, & Lokanc-Diluzio, 2009).

Prescription & Other Drugs

No evidence regarding social norms campaigns targeting other drugs was located.