Changing Social Norms: A Mass Media Campaign for Youth Ages 12-18

Article excerpt


Objective: To create a mass media campaign that endeavours to a) denormalize tobacco use among youth aged 12-18, b) empower youth to stay tobacco product free, and c) increase awareness of the dangers of tobacco use, while using positive messaging.

Participants: Target age group was youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years.

Setting: The mass media campaign was developed, implemented, and evaluated within the city of Calgary.

Intervention: The mass media campaign consisted of posters for schools and other venues frequented by youth (e.g., community centres, libraries, fitness centres, restaurants, movie theatres), posters for transit (e.g., bus shelters, LRT shelters, back of bus) print advertisements, television/radio public service announcements, an interactive community website for youth, a media launch event, promotional items, and organizational efforts to cross-promote the campaign. The creative concept was based on intercept interviews, focus group testing, and other research conducted by the campaign's creative team and youth volunteers in order to identify the key elements of this campaign.

Outcomes: A total of 149 students completed both a baseline and follow-up survey to evaluate the marketing activities of the campaign. A total of 27 youth participated in prototype testing to compare this positive-messaging campaign with negative-toned tobacco reduction campaigns. Six stakeholders/partners participated in stakeholder interviews to assess their thoughts and learnings regarding the campaign process.

Conclusion: The evaluation respondents viewed the campaign positively and showed strong recall of the messaging.

Key words: Social marketing; youth; tobacco reduction

La traduction du résumé se trouve à la fin de l'article. Can J Public Health 2009;100(1):41-45.

Commercial tobacco use among youth is a public health concern because it is addictive and lethal. Tobacco use causes 90% of lung cancers, 75% of emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and 25% of ischaemic heart disease.1 Youth are considered a high-risk group in terms of smoking uptake. According to Statistics Canada, 14.8% of Canadian youth between 12 and 19 years of age smoked in 2003.2 The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey reported that 18% of youth aged 15-19 smoked in 2005.3 It is estimated that one third of smokers began smoking by the time they reached age 15.4 Additionally, according to one study, approximately 25% of youth aged 11-18, who had never smoked, were receptive to smoking (failed to state they would "definitely not" smoke).5

Favourable support exists for the effectiveness of social marketing to reduce and prevent tobacco use among youth.6,7 This article will report an intervention entitled, Changing Social Norms: A Mass Media Campaign for Youth Ages 12 to 18 Years. The objective of the intervention was to develop a mass media campaign within a social marketing framework to denormalize tobacco product use in youth. The intervention endeavoured to use a strengths-based approach to increase awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and empower youth to stay tobacco free. Within this article, social marketing is defined according to Andreasen's commonly used description:

"The application of commercial marketing technologies to the analysis, planning, execution and evaluation of programs designed to influence the voluntary behavior of target audiences in order to improve their personal welfare and that of their society." 8

This includes using marketing principles that will persuade the target audience to reject, change, accept or discard a behaviour.9,10

Participants and setting

The target population for this campaign included youth between the ages of 12 and 18 within the city of Calgary. The primary target of this campaign included youth who had experimented with tobacco products (1 to 100 cigarettes smoked). This group was targeted instead of the general population because campaigns tend to experience greater success when concentrating on a segmented audience,11 and many failed campaigns may be a result of not targeting a specific population and their needs and interests. …