norms: an alternative to 'health terrorism'?
Apart from legal restrictions on the supply of drink, what you might
think of as various forms of partial prohibition, the main way of
pursuing a public alcohol policy, and the drinks industry's own strategy
of choice, is through social marketing.
A shocking -
in more than one sense - example of this is the current
NHS ad campaign. As one speaker at last week's Social Norms and
Student Drinking conference put it, this fear-based approach is a kind
of "health terrorism".
The alternative to scaring people into drinking less, put forward at the
conference*, is to encourage 'good' behaviours by representing what's
'normal', the idea being that people tend to do what other people do.
Research shows there is a general misapprehension, not surprising when
you think of the problem inflation touted by medical temperance and the
mainsream media, that people drink more than they actually do. Simply by
having the facts, they adjust their own behaviour to bring them more
closely into line with what they now know to be the norm.
Reports from the United States suggest this works, but it hasn't been
tried much over here. The Best Bar None
scheme arguably comes under the category of social norms marketing
but mostly we get scare tactics, which some research has revealed to be
counter-productive. (See, for example, a
recent blog by American beer writer Jay Brooks.)
Drinks industry representatives at the conference were quite excited by
the social norms alternative, and it's certainly an improvement on fear.
Personally, I have my doubts. Won't it be boring? Effective advertising
relies on making images and messages jump out from the communications
noise. A 'norm', by definition, is not going to do that by itself. And I
am, of course, sceptical about health promotion in general.
Still, social norms are worth discussing further and exploring what a
such an approach for alcohol might look like. If you're hoping the
health lobby might get on board with the idea, though, think again.
Because as far
as medical temperance is concerned, it's the norms that are all wrong.
The theory at
the heart of temperance ideology is that overall alcohol consumption
determines the amount of alcohol problems a population experiences. But
what is the mechanism by which that happens?
anything more substantial, temperance resorts to social norms. It's the
fact that drinking is so damned normal in our society that causes people
to drink to hazardous levels. Social norms marketing is the last thing
documents can be downloaded from the Noctis
to diary archive