What are Social Norms Marketing and Positive Community Norms?

teenListed by The New York Times Magazine as one of the most significant ideas of 2001, social norms marketing is based on the central concept of social norms theory – that people’s behavior is influenced by their perceptions of what is “normal” or “typical.” The problem is that we often severely misperceive the typical behaviors or attitudes of our peers. For example, if people believe that the majority of their peers smoke, then they are more likely to smoke. Using social norms marketing to inform people that the majority of their peers do not smoke can potentially lead them to avoid smoking. Thus, informing people that the majority of their peers are acting in a positive or healthy way can create an environment in which people actively strive to emulate what they believe is typical of their peers.

“Positive Community Norms” was an approach formerly used by the Center that was largely based on social norms marketing. Positive Community Norms focused on developing media campaigns to address normative misperceptions across layers of a community. While traditional social norms efforts focused on a single group or audience, Positive Community Norms focused on several audiences surrounding a specific issue. For example, in addressing underage drinking, campaigns might focus on youth, their parents, schools, and the general community.

The Center has refined and expanded its approach to improving health and safety by creating the Positive Culture Framework (PCF). PCF builds on lessons learned from our research on Positive Community Norms and includes more than just normative beliefs to take a comprehensive, cultural perspective.