Your child is cheating at school and you don't have a clue. Or
perhaps you are blissfully unaware that your teenager, the one headed
to college soon, already likes to get drunk.
Not to worry. Madison Avenue is riding to the rescue with
advertising campaigns aimed at changing high school and college-
student behavior - and aiding the parenting-challenged, too.
Social marketing, as it is called, uses commercial advertising
techniques to "sell" positive behavior. Fastening seat belts, just
saying "no" to drugs, and not letting "friends drive drunk" are
Until recently, though, few social-marketing campaigns were
explicitly aimed at students or education problems. But with
cheating, drinking, and violence emerging at school and on campus,
these issues are now in the cross hairs of advertising executives and
"Unfortunately, it's often easier for a teacher not to confront a
student, and some parents are neglectful about their children's
progress in school," says Paul Kurnit, president of Griffin Bacal
Inc., an advertising agency in New York specializing in youth and
family. "There's a need for social marketing to step up to the
And it is. In coming weeks, a new national television ad campaign
will try to curb cheating that some experts say is rampant in the
nation's junior highs and high schools.
Also, this month a big campaign sponsored by 113 colleges and
universities placed full-page ads in national newspapers. The ads
depicted a beer bottle labeled "Binge Beer" - a metaphor for the
mayhem that drunkenness is causing on college campuses across the
"Who says falling off a balcony is such a bad thing," reads the
anti-drunkenness ad. "And what's an occasional riot? Or even a
little assault between friends? Thousands of college students across
the country have already discovered "Binge Beer." And this year,
thousands more will try it.
"Don't think that's a good idea?" the ad continues. "Neither do
we, but we need your help in convincing our students of the
The pitch is directed at parents of high school students - rather
than those in college today.
Colleges join forces
Graham Spanier is president of Pennsylvania State University in
University Park. He came up with the idea for colleges to band
together to publicize the problem, and says parents need to
understand that "an 18-year-old who arrives at a university today may
already be an experienced binge drinker."
To be sure, Penn State and other schools involved in the campaign
are supplementing that message with campus-based media campaigns and
expanded social activities.
Yet some observers warn of pitfalls the campaign could face.
"They're going to have a huge uphill battle to register a change
in student attitude," says Steve Dnistrian, executive vice president
of Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a New York-based nonprofit
"The alcohol industry spends $1 billion a year on marketing and
promotion," he says. "If that's your competition, and if you want to
persuade one teen and his parents that binge drinking is a bad idea