Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry

By Michael Suman; Gabriel Rossman | Go to book overview

1
The Harvard Alcohol Project: Promoting the "Designated Driver"

Jay A. Winsten

How effective are projects that rely on mass communication strategies to promote healthy behaviors? One of the best documented examples is the National Designated Driver Campaign. Launched in November 1988, the campaign was spearheaded by the Harvard School of Public Health's Center for Health Communication in partnership with all the major Hollywood studios and the leading television networks.

The campaign was initiated because the movement against drunk driving had lost momentum by the mid-1980s. In the early 1980s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), other activist organizations, and government agencies achieved tremendous success placing the drunk driving issue on the public and media agendas. Annual alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined substantially during this period. However, by 1985, the activities of these organizations-while still critically important--were no longer fresh and newsworthy, and media attention turned to other issues. When media coverage fell off drastically, progress in reducing fatalities ground to a halt. Indeed, annual alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased in 1986 and then remained unchanged through 1988. Clearly, there was a need for a fresh new idea to recapture public and media interest and rejuvenate the anti-drunk driving movement. The designated driver concept, invented in the Nordic countries, filled that role.

The Center for Health Communication was attracted to the designated driver concept for several reasons. From a marketing perspective, it offers a very simple media message--an essential requirement for working effectively through mass communication. However, the concept's simplicity is the tip of an iceberg; beneath the surface lies enormous complexity. The designated driver concept promotes a new social norm, a new social expectation, that the driver does not drink any alcohol; lends social legitimacy to the non-drinking option; encourages people to plan ahead when they are going out for the evening; and places the issue of driving-after-drinking on the interpersonal agendas of couples and small groups. In

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