While we hear a lot of bad news stories about teen drinking, the reality is that most kids don’t drink. In fact, less than one-third of our teenagers aged 12-17 years drank any alcohol in the last month; and the Australian Secondary Schools Survey on Alcohol and Drugs tells us that teen drinking in Australia has been steadily declining for over thirty years, which is great news!

However, most people in our communities do not believe the reality. They are all too often presented with sensational and negative media stories about teens and alcohol. The perception among teens is that most people their age are drinkers and that they will need to start drinking to fit in. Parents and other adults also think that teen drinking is more common than it is, and that if they are opposed to giving kids alcohol they must be more conservative than other adults in the community.

All of this adds up to a situation where Australian children and teenagers feel pressured to drink, and adults feel pressured to provide alcohol, and we are at risk of reversing the positive changes in teen drinking.

This project aimed to communicate to teens and their parents that not drinking is a normal and acceptable behaviour for people under the age of 18.


Traditional approaches to delaying or reducing alcohol consumption among adolescents have been school-based education and fear-based media campaigns. Evidence reviews of the effectiveness of alcohol harm reduction interventions consistently conclude that school-based education does not reduce drinking levels or drinking-related harms, that ‘public education campaigns’ are ineffective, and that industry-funded educational programs actually result in positive views about alcohol and the alcohol industry.

The Kiama Stop Underage Drinking project was funded by the Australian Research Council to take a completely different approach.

The social norms approach, although widely used in the US, has not been widely used in Australia. The approach says that people are motivated to conform to the behaviour of others (what they think others do, and what they think others think of them). Thus, we can change people’s behaviour by correcting their misperceptions of what is ‘normal’.

Our community over-estimates the proportion of teens that drink alcohol. In particular, teens believe that their peers drink alcohol at an earlier age, drink it more often, and drink more of it than they actually do. We hypothesised that if we can correct these mis-perceptions, we can reduce the pressure teens feel to drink, they will start drinking later, drink less often and drink smaller amounts. We also think that the approach could be successful with parents and other adults, who perceive their own attitudes to the supply of alcohol to minors to be more conservative than those of other adults in their community.

We coupled the social norms approach with a community based social marketing campaign. Social marketing is commonly defined as a program-planning process that applies concepts and techniques of commercial marketing to promote voluntary behaviour (and attitude) change at a community level. We aimed to change the cultural acceptance of underage drinking by supporting community standards and creating an environment where it is okay not to drink.

This was an ‘all-of community’, multi-phase social marketing campaign targeting three segments; adolescents, parents of adolescents, and the broader community. Throughout all phases we used a combination of marketing strategies and mediums to convey key messages and engage the community. The campaign resulted in significant improvements in knowledge, particularly for over-estimations of the proportion of young people who drink and parents who provide alcohol; increases in the perceived acceptable age for young people to start drinking in their community; and reductions in perceptions of community acceptability of underage drinking and parental supply.

Kiama was chosen because of specific community elements which made it a perfect location for a social research study: a well-established community identity, a local media outlet, one central local high school, one active local council known for progressive health projects (including a municipal health plan) as well as being a geographically defined community. Kiama represents a typical community – it is important to note that it does not have a significantly bigger problem in underage drinking than other NSW communities.

The project was grounded in a strong consumer orientation – underpinned by extensive formative research. We established a Community Consultative Committee with local stakeholders – parents, community members, police officers, teachers, youth workers, community development workers and representation from junior sporting associations. The group met bi-monthly to advise and contribute to the development and implementation of the project to ensure that it reflected contemporary local issues, perspectives and voices. Our consumer insights not only guided the overall direction of the campaign (such as the use of a staged approach; meeting the community where it was by commencing with fear based messaging and then progressing with strong efficacy based and positive social norms messages), but also specific execution elements (such as the tagline for phase one being a direct quote from a focus group participant).

The segmentation approach enabled us to develop and target our messages; beyond the initial geographic segmentation to the development of specific messages and strategies for three distinct target groups; teenagers, parents of teenagers and community members . The principle of exchange ensured that we focused on building self-efficacy and addressing crucial barriers to engagement such as ensuring a sense of community ownership and that young people and parents felt supported, rather than criticized, by the intervention.

We ensured that we tackled the competition head on, by providing all three target segments with clear and accessible information on the realities of youth drinking, integrating into school curriculum opportunities for adolescents to discuss and develop viable alternatives to drinking, and developing messages and strategies that addressed all segments’ fears of being branded a ‘wowser’ in a pro-alcohol culture.

This was a social marketing campaign – not a social advertising campaign – with all four Ps of the marketing mix given equal consideration and emphasis in the development and implementation of the campaign.

PRODUCT – awareness and acceptance of the actual norm that most teens don’t drink and most adults do not facilitate or condone underage drinking.

PRICE –  included deeply-held misperceptions of descriptive (perceptions of what other people do) and injunctive (other people’s approval or disapproval) norms.

PLACE –  was integral to the whole-of-community approach with saturation of messages and messengers, in partnership with a range of community partners including Kiama High School, Kiama Youth Centre, North Kiama Neighbourhood Centre, local clubs, local media and NSW Police.

PROMOTION –  paid and unpaid media, merchandise etc were developed in collaboration with the community and were constantly refreshed to avoid message wear-out (when the message has been around long enough for its effect/meaning to begin to fade or not be noticed).

A project logic model is a process which maps out the overall objectives of a project and the steps which need to be taken to achieve them.  We mapped out project logic models for both the teen and adult target groups to inform our project planning, implementation and evaluation.

thumbnail of Teen Logic Model
thumbnail of Adult Logic Model


We knew that for the campaign to work it had to be developed in collaboration with the community, and create a sense of community ownership in the messages and the social change.

We started with a comprehensive approach to formative research – talking to teenagers, parents, community leaders, and community members to understand their beliefs, attitudes and experiences regarding underage drinking in their community. As we expected, we found that people thought that underage drinking was far more common, and far more accepted and expected, than the reality. We also found that they weren’t ready to hear the reality and did not believe the statistics.

Our message testing found that all three target groups – teenagers, parents and the broader community – expressed a strong preference for a high-fear campaign. They wanted us to do what they had seen government campaigns do in the past; use graphic messages to scare ‘those kids’ and ‘their parents’, and did not see themselves as the target audience.

However, as social marketers with knowledge and expertise in behaviour change and mass media campaigns, we knew that this approach would not achieve our goal of correcting misperceptions about young people and alcohol. Instead, we developed a multi-phase social marketing campaign to engage the target audience within their comfort zone and move them along with us through the campaign phases. We planned our messages, delivery and timing such that we could tap into widely held community sentiment and gradually introduce new information in a non-threatening, progressive and empowering manner.

We began with the fear based messages the audience was expecting, using images featuring scenes and locations that were relevant to the community. “Bad things happen to good kids too”, a direct quote from a formative research participant, provided the tagline and introduced the premise that the problem of underage drinking can affect anyone.

Phase 2 provided the community with a call to action, “Can a community stop underage drinking?” in a six week ‘teaser’ campaign, followed by the addition of “Kiama can” on all communication materials (also six weeks). This included customisable posters and banners to enable local groups to express their support for the campaign.

Finally a full force social norms campaign was implemented community wide. The call to action, “Stand Your Ground”, empowered young people to be comfortable with their decisions not to drink; and adults with their decisions not to supply. We used local data collected in the mid-point evaluation to reinforce the positive changes evidenced in the community.


On Wednesday the 9th of October 2013, the Kiama Underage Drinking Project was launched at the Kiama Sebel Hotel. It was hosted by Rachel Malin and Michael Swain who were the elected Kiama High School Captains for 2014. Project Ambassadors were Australian Athletes Casey Sablowski (nee Eastham) (Hockey) and David McKeon (Swimming). Keynote speakers included Prof Sandra Jones, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, Gareth Ward MP and Neil Riley, Deputy Mayor of Kiama Municipal Council.

Intervention materials were spread throughout the community in numerous formats from bus stickers to wrist bands and were constantly refreshed to avoid message wear-out.

We engaged and collaborated with the entire community to create a sense of community ownership in the messages and social change.



We gave out 30,000 pieces of merchandise including hacky sacks, highlighters, glow in the dark wrist bands, shopping bags, wallets, pens, magnets and post its. We even provided disposable coffee cups to local mobile coffee vendors and cafes.


We installed posters, banners and corflutes in community venues such as shopping centres, clubs, small businesses, sporting and entertainment venues. Overall we distributed 140 corflutes, put up 5 road-side banners and hung over 3,000 posters throughout the community.


The campaign website and Facebook page allowed people to obtain more information and share their support for campaign messages. We reached 880 likes on our Facebook page with one post reaching over 19,000 people, with 384 likes, 51 comments and 132 shares. Our website attracted over 10,000 visits.


Local newspapers provided vehicles for both paid and earned media. We purchased 50 ads and earned 22 media stories.


We printed and distributed 8,000 booklets with easy-to-read facts on underage drinking and tips for parents.


Campaign staff attended 106 local events, such as farmers’ markets and community festivals, providing information and handing out branded merchandise.


The partnership with Kiama High School was integral to the success of the Kiama Stop Underage Drinking Project. The school principal, members of the executive and particularly the Faculty of Personal Development, Health and Physical Activity (PDHPE) were involved in the project from the planning phases, early consultation, implementation and evaluation phases.

We engaged students and the school community in a comprehensive social marketing campaign, with targeted strategies, to reduce the perceptions and beliefs that:

1. it is okay to drink alcohol regularly
2. other teens think it is okay to drink alcohol regularly
3. adults in the community think it is okay for young people to drink regularly.

The primary target group were students in years seven through ten (aged 12 – 16 years) and we engaged them in numerous ways throughout the two year intervention. Outdoor banners featuring the messages: “Kiama Doesn’t Support Underage Drinking” and “Stand Your Ground” were placed around the school grounds. Over 100 campaign posters were placed in classrooms, offices, storerooms and on the back of toilet doors. The television in the school foyer displayed campaign images, taglines and messages and a large ‘pop up’ banner in the foyer also served as a prominent visual cue for the campaign’s presence. The campaign logo and tagline was programmed to be the default opening screen and screen saver on all 250 school computers and we used the weekly school newsletter to communicate social norms messages about teens and alcohol. We sponsored major school events and student prizes and project staff delivered audio-visual presentations to both parents and students at many occasions such as Study Skills Days and Parent Information Nights.

Students in years 7-9 took part in a poster competition to use their understanding of social norms to design their own local poster campaign and both parents and students participated in formative research and community consultations via online surveys and focus groups.

Social Norms Curriculum

thumbnail of 7-8 Curriculum Sample
thumbnail of 9-10 Curriculum Sample

In 2013 research staff, together with PDHPE teachers worked together to develop and teach a new Alcohol and Social Norms Curriculum, “It’s OK not to drink”. Curricula were developed for Years 7 and 8 (combined) and Years 9 and 10 (combined) and included 10 lesson plans and accompanying resources.

“It’s OK not to drink” was taught again in 2014 in Health classes to all students in years 7-10 (n=738). Teachers from the PDHPE department also provided process evaluation data (via focus groups) at two time points throughout the teaching term.

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To see if there were any changes in community attitudes because of the campaign, we collected data from Kiama residents before we began and after we concluded. We had two surveys to do this – one was a long survey conducted online, the other was contracted to an external market research company to conduct brief telephone interviews. We made sure we had enough people (sample) to make our data statistically reliable.

We conducted the same surveys with a completely different community (Ballina, NSW) so we could compare the two. Having a ‘control’ community with no intervention helps us to measure what affect we really had.

Along the way, we kept collecting more data in Kiama (our staff would attend all sorts of music festivals, sporting matches, markets and events and ask people questions!). This helped us measure the small progressions we were making in order to reflect this back to the community in our social marketing strategies. It also made sure we were constantly reflecting on what we were doing and how, adjusting and refreshing our strategies and keeping the project alive.

Importantly, pre and post-intervention surveys in Ballina (our matched control community) showed no such changes, demonstrating that the changes in Kiama were a result of the campaign and not a universal change in beliefs and attitudes.

What percentage of 16 year olds drink alcohol?

Before 53%
After 44%

What percentage of 14 year olds drink alcohol?

Before 25%
After 18%

What age is it acceptable to have a sip of alcohol?

Before 16
After 16.7

How many parents do you think provide alcohol for their 16-year-old to drink at home?

Before 35%
After 29%

Do you believe that the community considers it unacceptable for a 16-year-old to drink alcohol?

Before 75%
After 88%

Do you believe that the community considers it unacceptable for a parent to purchase alcohol for a 16-year-old to drink at home?

Before 76%
After 89%


The Kiama Stop Underage Drinking Project was named the NSW State winner of the “Social Marketing and Social Change/Non-Profit Marketing” category of the 2016 Australian Marketing Institute awards for successfully reducing misperceptions around underage drinking and parental provision of alcohol.

“Recognition by the AMI of the quality and effectiveness of our social marketing intervention is a significant achievement – for CHaSR and for ACU – but also results in increased awareness that an evidence-based, whole-of-community social marketing approach can change social norms and support young people and their parents in the decision to delay alcohol initiation,” Professor Jones, CHaSR Director, said.

This project was funded by the Australian Research Council, Future Fellowship FT120100932 awarded to Prof Sandra C Jones.