Author: Kevin Liu
The “Don’t Be an Ass” posters hanging around campus have certainly grabbed the attention of many students, but the effect has not necessarily resulted in anything positive. The signs, which first appeared last semester, assert that no one likes a loud drunk, a clumsy drunk or a belligerent drunk. The strategy of social consequence-focused anti-binge-drinking campaigns is simple enough: grab the attention of students and get conversation going about the consequences of binge drinking.
Diego Silva, the assistant director of student life, spearheads this campaign and said that the initiative came from former Dean of Students Barbara Avery.
“A directive that came to us from Dean Avery last year was, can we look into creating some kind of social norm campaign that we can just add to the programs that individual offices are doing?” said Silva. “That was about as specific as the directive was. It was up to us to figure out what direction we wanted to take that in.”
In creating the campaign, Silva and his team were looking for a fresh take on the old problem of binge drinking on college campuses. His approach was inspired by the strategies of commercial advertisement powerhouses.
“Looking at the market in Western culture markets, like Geico and Esurance and things like that, I think those have been some of my favorites,” Silva said. “I have tried to pull some inspiration from that off-the-wall, kind of totally separate issue but kind of tying in that final message.”
The in-your-face type messaging has certainly garnered numerous student double-takes, but the “Don’t Be an Ass” campaign’s party donkey fails to address larger issues at hand. It not only neglects the issue of alcoholism, but it could even potentially worsen the problem of binge drinking on campus.
Demanding that students not “be an ass” is a prescription that implies being embarrassingly drunk is a choice. While most students are capable of consciously choosing to drink responsibly or not, not everyone has complete control over their drinking habits.
Alcoholism is a real problem on college campuses, considering that about half of college students who drink engage in binge drinking as well. The “Don’t Be an Ass” campaign understandably cannot solve alcoholism, but it may be doing just the opposite. By shaming students who may have a drinking problem, the seemingly benevolent donkey in a party hat turns into a fear campaign.
The Journal of Advertising published an article concerning the effects of certain anti-drinking campaigns, focusing specifically on the process of fear control and the risks of campaigns that activate fear.
“Maladaptive changes occur to control the fear, such as denial,” author Joyce M. Wolburg writes. “In extreme cases, boomerang effects can be seen, such as more excessive drinking and more risky behavior.”
Aside from potentially making matters worse, the “Don’t Be an Ass” campaign lacks strategic creativity. While the campaign’s headline is original, the message is not.
“The Other Hangover Campaign” 2011 at the University of Minnesota, the “LessThanUThink Campaign” 2012 at the University of Alabama and the “Don’t Turn a Night Out into a Nightmare Campaign” in Australia all share the same message as “Don’t Be an Ass.” Unsurprisingly, all of these campaigns have reported success in visibility and approval, but none have reported success in reducing binge drinking. The decision of bringing into the world another anti-binge drinking campaign with a similar motive seems to miss the point. Occidental needs a new campaign to confront an old problem.
Instead of targeting the individual doing the drinking, the campaign should target the act of drinking itself. List health issues or the excessive amount of money spent on alcohol as incentives to act responsibly.
Fear of social consequences can be a compelling message for some, but the risks outweigh the benefits in this case. Shaming potential alcoholics brings about the denial that is as poisonous as that next drink.
Kevin Liu is a senior Politics major. He can be reached at [email protected]
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