Monday, September 28, 2009

90% of you still have at least one kidney! Congratulations!

Social marketing can work. And pointing out that most of your peers are engaging in healthy or prosocial behavior can be effective, so, for example, a 16-year-old virgin doesn’t think she’s the only one left. But the University at Albany attempts to do this in a rather confusing way.

Every semester the counseling center hangs up posters around campus: click here to see them. The one on my floor says: “79% of UAlbany students drink alcohol twice a week, less often, or not at all.” This is presumably supposed to make students who don’t drink frequently feel better about themselves. My reading? More than a FIFTH of the student population is drinking three or more times a week. WOW. Really, twice a week on average is quite a bit, assuming that it’s typical student-type drinking rather than a beer with dinner. Wouldn’t the statistic have been a little more encouraging to non-drinkers if it only included those who drank less than once a week? Or was that number too embarrassingly low to publish?

Another? “80% of UAlbany students have not engaged in unprotected sexual activity as a result of alcohol use.” I’m not entirely sure what this is trying to convey. That those in this 80% shouldn’t feel like prudes? Seems a little bit backwards. Maybe it would be more effective to point out that an entire FIFTH of the population apparently has, which (a) you may want to make an effort to avoid, and (b) means that whoever you’re sleeping with may well be in this category and perhaps more likely to be diseased. (Also: 77% have not physically injured themselves and 88% have not gotten into a fight due to alcohol. Reverse those odds, and wow.)

There are more. “58% of UAlbany students consume four or less alcoholic drinks at bars.” Disregarding the grammar, it’s hard to even know what this means (other than that 42% consume 4+). Is this only among students who are old enough to drink at bars, or can just about anyone get served around here? Or are all the people lacking fake IDs included in that 58%? “89% of UAlbany students believe that alcohol shouldn’t interfere with academics.” The rest think it SHOULD?

I’m not sure whether the survey results were so disturbing that there was no good way to present the data positively, or if the campaign’s designers just weren’t thinking. I find it pretty hard to believe that these posters are going to do what they hope.