Social Norms Marketing

Social Norms Marketing

Preventing students from using alcohol and other drugs is one component of the SAP program at VHHS.  Social norms marketing is one prevention strategy that the VHHS SAP program is implementing. The goal of the social norms campaign is to reduce student alcohol and tobacco use by promoting the actual norm that most students are making healthy choices by being alcohol and tobacco free.  For more information about “The Choice is Yours” social norms marketing campaign, email or call  Amy Dillon at 847-932-2158. 

Every 6 weeks, a new Social Norms Poster is revealed at VHHS. Poster themes and images are voted on each semester through a school-wide survey as well as through focus groups with VHHS students.


Here's one of our posters from last year: 





  Why discuss social norms?  Social norms campaigns by definition invoke skepticism.  If people believe that their young people use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana more than is actually the case, then they won’t believe when we inform them of the true actual rates of use.  With thoughtful discussion and honest responses to questions we can help shift the way they see things from the more extreme visible behavior to the less noticed but much more common healthy behaviors that are the norm.  We are working on this shift through our media campaign, but that can only take us so far without conversations among students, teachers, parents, and peers to enhance critical thinking skill.

  What is the “social norms” approach?  The social norms approach is based on the fact that most students are already making healthy choices with respect to substance use.  At the same time, students (and often their parents and teachers) believe that there is much more youth alcohol, cigarette, and other drug use than actually occurs.  This misperception causes many students to believe “everyone is doing it” and creates a climate where many youth feel that substance use is normal.  This can create pressure to initiate or continue alcohol, cigarette, and other drug use. The misperception also provides those who abuse with a justification for their behavior.  The Vernon Hills High School social norms campaign is designed to correct this misperception and support the healthy choices that most young people are already making.  The campaign provides students with accurate information about the prevalence of alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use among their peers.  In addition, the campaign also includes a supporting data demonstrating that most VHHS students care about their friends’ health and the choice they make.  For more information about social norms and other school campaigns go to: and

  How did the campaign get the facts?  In 2014, VHHS students in grades 9-12 took survey to examine substance use and their perceptions of their peers’ use.  The fact that there were 1158 valid surveys gives us confidence in the results.  56 surveys were not used because students did not answer the alcohol, tobacco and marijuana questions consistently or they did not complete at least 75% of the survey, and 9 were thrown out because students drew pictures on the scantron.  The survey was designed by a committee composed of SAP members, school administrators, and a researcher out of Northern Illinois University and was tailored to the needs of the district.  Results are available from members of the social norms team.  Students will be participating in the survey in October 2016.

  Do students answer surveys honestly?  Most do answer honestly but in order to better answer this question it is helpful to consider why someone might lie on a survey.  It would be reasonable to lie about illegal behavior if one’s identity could be determined.  Another motivation would be if the individuals running the survey were not respected or trusted.  A third reason might be if it was believed that the survey results were going to be used as part of an effort that would be anti-student.  The committee carefully designed the survey in order to address all of these concerns.  First, all surveys are anonymous and confidential.  Questions asked cannot be used to identify the person taking the survey and the demographic information is general and not sufficient to identify individuals. Extensive research on the reliability of surveys suggests that if a survey is perceived as anonymous and confidential participants answer honestly – even when they may think that others are not honest.  In fact, one of the biggest issues we face in talking about survey results to students is the inaccurate perception that others are not honest in taking the survey.  The VHHS survey is administered by First Class leaders and third period teachers who have the trust of the students.  Also, the purpose of the survey is clearly explained.  

   Even if most students don’t use alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs, is it ok to tell students that some do?  Most students have exaggerated ideas about how much substances are used by their peers and by older students.  If this is the case, there is no harm in telling them that actual use is much less than they think.