Monday, May 20, 2013

Critique of Above the Influence Campaign - by Julie Yaroni


Over the past few centuries media has grown to serve as an extremely influencing source of information.  Individuals are influenced through movies, television, music, and magazines. From a very early age individuals are taught from alcohol advertisements that partying and drinking leads to popularity and a happy life. This ideal lifestyle has played a major role in causing the percent of youth’s who use substances to increase.  In order to reduce the amount of youth’s partaking in alcohol and substance use many campaigns have been created.  One of the major campaigns, the National Youth Anti-Drug media campaign, fought to educate individuals about drug use, prevent youths from beginning using drugs, and to encouraging individuals who already use drugs to stop. The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign grew and created another branch known as the Above the Influence campaign.
Above the Influence campaign, ATI, was founded in 1998 and focuses on reducing the percent of teenagers who participate in drug and alcohol use. Above the Influence is said to influence teenagers to, “live above the influence of drugs and alcohol and reject the use of any substance that gets in the way of their goals in life” (8). The campaign works at both the national and local level, attempting to teach youths across the nation. ATI uses a variety of sources to gain awareness such as social media networks, television commercials, magazine ads, and working together with youth groups such as the Boys and Girls Club. Through their various advertisements Above the Influence campaign exemplifies to teenagers what it is like to be under the influence and the extreme consequences that can occur. Unfortunately although the campaign has a positive goal, there are many flaws within the structure of the campaign that harms the strength of its effectiveness.
Poor Framing
How an argument is formed and supported will directly affect the level of support it receives.  The values and images that are associated with the message will either cause someone to support it or not. Above the Influence has framed their core position to not use alcohol or drugs around the value of health. Compared to values though such as freedom and autonomy, which America was built upon, most individuals recognize health as a weak core value. In efforts to support this value they use many visual advertisements that represent the health risks associated. Above the Influence made a mistake using this value because health is not considered a strong value outside of the public health world.   In the Above the Influence campaign, teenagers would prefer to risk their health in order to save their freedom.

 Poor use of models: Health Belief Model and The Theory of Planned Behavior

 Although group level models often show more success than individual based models, Above the Influence campaign is based around two individual level theories, The Health Belief Model and the Theory of Planned Behavior. The Health Belief Model, HBM, one of the oldest individual health behavior theories, takes into account four factors; perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits of an action, and perceived barriers to taking that action. (6). The Theory of Planned Behavior, a revised version of the Theory of Reasoned Action, also looks at why a person performs certain behaviors. Both The Health Belief Model and the Theory of Planned Behavior assume that people act rationally; that if they know the risks of a behavior they would choose to perform healthier actions. Unfortunately, people do not act rationally, and following these theories weakens the Above the Influence Campaign.
 Above the Influence campaign believes that if teenagers are aware of the risks of drug and alcohol use, they would not want to experience the consequences, and will therefore not participate in drug and alcohol activities. There are many flaws with this idea. First, the majority of teenagers are already aware of the risks of alcohol and drug use before they try it; therefore the Above the Influence commercials are not exposing them to anything they are not already aware of.  Secondly, Above the Influence assumes that if people are knowledgeable about the risk they will feel susceptible to them, but that is false as well. According to an article by Neil D. Weinstein, “among negative events, the more undesirable the event, the stronger the tendency to believe that one’s own chances are less than average” (11). A third flaw of using these models is that Above the Influence campaign is acting at an individual level: “The HBM primarily focuses on individual decisions and does not address social and environmental factors” (6). This is a major problem, especially when the target population is teenagers because social norms are considered extremely important.  People want to fit in and feel that they belong, and socially it has been taught that drinking and smoking is the way to fulfill that. Finally, the Health Belief Model and the Theory of Planned Behavior also assumes that people act rationally, when that is not true. Teenagers do not stand at a party and weigh the pros and cons of having a beer or smoking from a bong, but rather they act spontaneously and hope that their actions followed the social norm and allowed them to fit it with their peers.
In order to truly reduce the percent of teenagers that use alcohol and drugs social norms must change. The media must stop portraying movies and commercials where all the popular students are drinking and partying. Constantly being surrounded by those images only reinforce the idea that drinking is cool, and “living above the influence”  means a lack of popularity and being an outcast in social circles.
 Triggers psychological Reactance  

No individual likes feeling that their freedom is being taken away, and when it is they must react in order to save their freedom. While the Above the Influence Campaign’s purpose is to reduce drug and alcohol use in teenagers, there are many factors to the campaign that actually trigger psychological reactance, and cause a boomerang affect.  One factor is in the campaign’s advertisements. How a campaign advertises its purpose is crucial, and many factors determine its effectiveness.  For instance, who delivers information is essential in determining how responsive the population receiving the message will be. Research has shown that individuals respond better when they can relate to the person delivering the message.
Above the Influence does not follow this concept and delivers very important information through extremely un-relatable sources. For example many of their ads and commercials have animals telling people not to drink or smoke. In one commercial a girl’s pet dog comes into the kitchen and tells her not to smoke because she isn’t the same when she does, the girl does not respond and the dog goes to play outside.   In no way can teenagers watching the commercial relate to a talking dog. Delivering information through a source that people cannot relate to is one way psychological reactance will be triggered. When similarity is not there, the perceived risk to losing freedom is higher.  This boomerang affect can also be due to an overexposure of alcohol and drug use. According to research, ““ a sample of anti-marijuana public statement announcements used in national anti-drug campaign in the U.S produced immediate effects opposite to intended by creators of this campaign on the youth’s attitudes to marijuana” (2) .

 Poor use of social marketing
With media having a growing effect on society, social marketing has become a major factor in how public health interventions spread their message.  Social marketing often uses three strategies to encourage individuals to change a behavior; shame, fear, and guilt. By using these negative appeals, “the instigators hope that by creating discomfort people will be motivated to act (or not) to decrease the feeling of discomfort” ( 1 ). Above the Influence commercials are designed to express these negative appeals.  For example the “Human Puppet” commercial shows a girl who is passed out from drinking and people from the party are writing on her face and treating her like a puppet.  People in the background are speaking negatively about the girl and how it was wrong of her to get that drunk. Although this commercial is meant to make people feel embarrassed about getting into situations similar to that, which does not always occur. This will not work because “individuals do not feel ashamed unless they care what others think about them” (1).  Teenagers care more about what their peers think rather than their parents, so although their parents may think they should be ashamed of their actions, their peers approve of it. Above the Influence commercials also focus on instilling fear in teenagers. By showing the worst case scenarios in many commercials the campaign hopes to scare people away from alcohol and drugs.  This does not work with the teenager population though, because teenagers believe they are invincible and although other people may experience negative consequences, it will not happen to them.
In a study performed on 226 college freshmen to test the effect of anti-marijuana ads, it was proven that the opposite effect of what was intended actually occurred. The study also showed that after watching the commercials, they felt that message delivered was weak.  “Past anti-drugs media campaigns in the U.S have been criticized for exaggerated use of fear-based arguments and some factual inaccuracies, practices that some researches warned might backfire by enforcing attitudes opposite to intended by the campaign creators” ( 2 ).  Above the Influence is one of the many media campaigns that overuse the concept of instilling fear of severe risks. For instance one commercial has a grandmother with a tube in her throat because smoking caused her to have cancer. Although this is meant to trigger negative emotions research has found that, “Many felt that even when they take notice of marketing campaigns, they would switch offfrom the message because of the negativity depicted within the message and any subsequent call to action” (1).  Rather than focuses on these negative emotions, Above the Influence would have benefited from other forms of advertisements.

Comparison to other current campaigns

Although Above the Influence has good intentions, its overall layout and execution of the campaign have proved to make it not as strong as a campaign as it hoped. Other campaigns, such as Florida’s “truth” campaign, were able to be successful without triggering psychological reactance and causing a boomerang affect. The “truth” campaign which focuses on decreases tobacco use in youths, avoids advertising a negative stigma associated with drug use.  Through their advertisements they allow individuals to relate to their message in order to reduce the level of threat to their freedom.   While ATI has proven to have a boomerang effect, “early evaluation results indicate that the truth has been successful in changing tobacco-related beliefs, attitudes, and intentions to smoke among teens nationwide” (4).  If future anti-drug campaigns wish to be successful, they should follow in the footsteps of the “truth” campaign rather than of the Above the Influence campaign.

New campaign overview
I would like to propose a new intervention called the “YES” campaign. This intervention has the same underlining purpose as Above the Influence and seeks to decrease the amount of teenagers who drink and use drugs. This new program is called the Yes campaign in order to promote a positive outlook on sobriety: say yes to your future, yes to playing sports, yes to happiness. This campaign would target children ages 10-15, in order to promote the idea and benefits of being sober before the pressure of drinking is even mentioned.  It is easier to stop individuals from starting a behavior rather than make people change their behavior.   The “Yes” campaign will follow in the footsteps of Florida’s “truth” campaign, in the aspect of how it relates to the target population. The “Yes” campaign will focus on decreasing psychological reactance, giving the target population a sense of identity, and supporting values they find important.

Decrease Psychological Reactance
The structure of the campaign’s commercials and advertisements are designed to decrease psychological reactance. In order to do this, the target population should be able to relate to the campaign. According to an article by Paul J. Silvia, “similarity should decrease the negative force toward resistance by influencing perceptions of the degree of threat. Similarity and liking profoundly affect social perception- people interpret the actions of liked others in positive, flattering ways” (10). In order to make the target population relate to the campaign, promoters of the “Yes” campaign will be peers so people do not feel threatened as well as older students and role models in order to increase attractiveness and appeal of the “Yes” campaign.  For example, in most schools the football players are considered the most popular kids in school. In movies they are advertised as having the most girls and the most friends, and everybody admires them. By having a football player and other athletes stand up for the “Yes” campaign and express all the natural hard work they did and the benefits they have seen, people will admire them  and want to follow in their footsteps. Sharing personal stories will allow these young teens to realize that their dreams and goals are reachable. According to an article by Neil D. Weintstein, “previous personal experience with an event increases the likelihood that people will believe their own chances are greater than average” (11). Knowing that their neighbors, friends, teammates, etc., achieved their goals will allow other individuals to see that their own goal is reachable as well.
To further reduce the level of psychological reactance, spokesmen of the “Yes” campaign will never say do not do drugs, but rather will promote the positive outcomes they have reached without partaking in those activities. The “Yes” campaign will better implement the social marketing theory by not triggering negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and fear.  By not showing disapproving opinions on specific behaviors and looking down upon the target population, individual freedom will not threatened, and teenagers are less likely to rebel.
By having peers share their experiences both at schools and through the media, other individuals will practice the habits they observe.  It is natural for people respond based on whether or not a result proved beneficial. According to the social learning theory, “it attempts to explain how individuals observe other people’s actions and how they come to adopt those patterns of action as personal modes of response to problems, conditions, or events in their own lives” (3).  If young teens see that by not using drugs and alcohol people were rewarded, they will want to perform similarly in order to be rewarded as well.  
Everybody, especially during the teen years wants to feel a sense of belonging and identity. The “Yes” campaign will become part of their identity. In this aspect, it will follow in the steps of Florida’s “truth” campaign. The “truth” campaign has proven to be an extremely successful intervention, and a large part is due to making “truth” a brand.  They believed, “if we wanted youth to really embrace our anti-tobacco effort, it made sense that we should deliver it just like other successful US youth products, such as Adidas, Fubu or Abercrombie-in a branded form they understood” (5).  Branding the “Yes” campaign will help spread awareness of the campaign, and allows the youths who take part in its effort to feel a sense of belonging and identity.  Like these other successful brands slogans, values, and a sense of community must be formed. The “Yes” campaign will incorporate all of these.
In order to build a group that the youths will feel a part of, “Yes” conventions will be held. These will be events where students from several schools who support the campaign can gather, share stories, participate in activities, and expand their social network with individuals of similar values. People will promote the slogan, “I said YES” while sharing their experiences. This community will also be found on social networks. The webpage will be a place where individuals can share their stories, find support, and relate to one another. 

How a campaign is framed largely effects how its message is received. “A frame is a way of packaging and positioning an issue so that it conveys a certain meaning” (7). How a message is framed can alter peoples’ opinion and change how they view something. “Framing not only defines the issue, but it also suggests the solution: ‘if we alter the definition of problems, then the response also changes’” (7). Framing will not only affect people’s opinions, but their behaviors and actions as well, which is why it is essential for the “Yes” campaign to have a strong frame.  Beyond the outlining argument, a frame contains symbols, metaphors, catch phrases, and core values. Often times public health campaigns support their arguments with the core value of health; unfortunately health is not considered a strong core value.
 Rather than following this public health trend, the “Yes” campaign is going to find out what value are important to the target population, and frame  its arguments around those values. Youths are looking for a way to be independent, freedom from their parents, autonomy, etc. These values are considered dominant frames, and they are the frames the “Yes” campaign will incorporate; by “saying yes” the youth population has the freedom to create their own future, they have the right to happiness, and the freedom to choose. Also, unlike the Above the Influence campaign which uses visual images of depression and injuries, and other consequences of alcohol and drug use, the “Yes” campaign will focus on positive symbols such as athleticism, success, dreams, happiness, popularity, etc. These core values and symbols will also be another way to decrease psychological reactance by making the target population feel in control.
Although above the Influence and the “Yes” campaign have different ways to execute an intervention, the end goals are the same:  have teenagers make healthier life decision by reducing the amount of teens that partake in alcohol and drug related activities.  Although people are not always aware of is, society plays a major role in influencing everyday decisions and behaviors. People act a certain way because they feel that is the way society wants them to behave; society expects teenagers to be rebellious, having your friend drink is a passage into adulthood, etc.  It is no surprise that the rate of teenagers who use drugs and alcohol have risen over the years because these actions are constantly advertised through movies, television, music, and other aspects of everyday life. In order to truly reduce the amount of teenagers engaging in these activities, society as a whole must change their views and expectations. Parents and other sources should not scare their children out of drinking, but rather be honest with them.  People of all ages get a thrill out of doing something that they believe is a little dangerous, removing that thrill immediately takes away some of the joy and reduces the amount of people participating in that activity. If teenagers do not feel that their freedom is taken away, they would not have the thrill to partake in drinking and drug related activities.


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