An exploratory trial examined the feasibility of implementing a social norms marketing campaign to reduce student drinking in universities in Wales.
Fifty residence halls in 4 universities in Wales were randomly assigned to intervention or control arms. Web and paper surveys were distributed to students within these halls (n = 3800), assessing exposure/contamination, recall of and evaluative responses to intervention messages, perceived drinking norms and personal drinking behaviour.
A response rate of 15% (n = 554) was achieved, varying substantially between sites. Intervention posters were seen by 80% and 43% of students in intervention and control halls respectively, with most remaining materials seen by a minority in both groups. Intervention messages were rated as credible and relevant by just over half of students, though fewer felt they would influence their behaviour. Lighter drinkers were more likely to perceive messages as credible. No differences in perceived norms were observed between intervention and control groups. Students reporting having seen intervention materials reported lower descriptive norms (perception of which behaviors are typically performed) and injunctive norms (perceptions of which behaviours are typically approved or disapproved) than those who did not.
The authors state that attention is needed to enhancing exposure, credibility and perceived relevance of intervention messages, particularly among heavier drinkers, before definitive evaluation can be recommended. A definitive evaluation would need to consider how it would achieve sufficient response rates, whilst hall-level cluster randomisation appears subject to a significant degree of contamination.
Source: An exploratory cluster randomised trial of a university halls of residence based social norms marketing campaign to reduce alcohol consumption among 1st year students. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2013; 8: 15. Published online 2013 April 18.