Alcohol prevention on college campuses: the moderating effect of the alcohol environment on the effectiveness of social norms marketing campaigns

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2011 Mar;72(2):232-9. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2011.72.232.


Objective: Evaluations of social norms marketing campaigns to reduce college student drinking have produced conflicting results. This study examines whether the effectiveness of such campaigns may be moderated by on-premise alcohol outlet density in the surrounding community.

Method: Multilevel analyses were conducted of student survey responses (N= 19,838) from 32 U.S. colleges that took part in one of two 4-year randomized, controlled trials completed for the Social Norms Marketing Research Project (SNMRP). In the models, students by year were nested within treatment (n = 16) and control group (n = 16) campuses, which were characterized by the on-premise outlet density in their surrounding community. The moderating effect of outlet density was introduced into the models as an interaction between the treatment effect (i.e., the effect of the social norms marketing campaigns over time) and outlet density. The models were also stratified by campus alcohol outlet density (high vs. low) to examine the effect of the intervention in each type of setting.

Results: There was a significant interaction between the treatment effect and on-premise alcohol outlet density for one of the drinking outcomes targeted by the SNMRP intervention, the number of drinks when partying, and marginal evidence of interaction effects for two other outcomes, maximum recent consumption and a composite drinking scale. In stratified analyses, an intervention effect was observed for three of the four outcomes among students from campuses with lower on-premise alcohol outlet density, whereas no intervention effect was observed among students from campuses with higher on-premise alcohol outlet density.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that the campus alcohol environment moderates the effect of social norms marketing interventions. Social norms marketing intervention may be less effective on campuses with higher densities of on-sale alcohol outlets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / pathology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Data Collection
  • Ethanol
  • Humans
  • Marketing*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Marketing
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Universities / statistics & numerical data*


  • Ethanol