Photo of DeKalb, Sycamore, and Evanston High Schools

Case Studies - Evanston High School (ETHS) Strength in Numbers

Project Description

Evanston Township High School has approximately 3,033 students (2000-2001 enrollment figures) and 313 teachers and administrators. In April, 2001, Evanston Township High School (ETHS), in collaboration with the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Council, began a social norms marketing campaign targeted primarily at reducing the use of alcohol and tobacco among ETHS students.

Project Funding Sources

In addition, 17 Evanston business have generously provided in-kind support to this project.

Project Objectives

The Strength in Numbers project objectives are to:

The Strength in Numbers project goals are to:

Baseline Data

Baseline data collected from ETHS students (n = 2,010) in May 2001 indicate that:

Other baseline survey results include:

Other important findings includes:

Normative Messages

With approximately three thousand students and over three hundred teachers, staff, and administrators, Evanston Township High School is not only large but also extremely diverse. Using a wide array of royalty-free, commercially purchased images of young people, project staff have been able to create normative media reflective of the school's tremendous diversity and its inclusive spirit. Messages have been specifically designed to support the concepts of power and choice—especially appealing notions to developing adolescents—and to promote the competence, care, and healthy behavior of the clear majority of students.

A typical example of the posters created is one with the message "Support your friends' healthy choices!" which includes specific avoidance tips derived from the students themselves: "Make a pact ahead of time not to drink. Leave parties together if there's drinking. Stand your ground—together." This upbeat message with its concrete behavioral suggestions is accompanied by the normative statement: "72% of ETHS students choose healthy options other than drinking when they're with their friends." Detailed information regarding the source of the normative data—such as the administration date and sample size of the survey—is also provided. Finally, the accompanying image of two smiling, teenage girls warmly embracing serves to visually reinforce the message.
(To view other examples of the ETHS media, select one of the following links.
Note: files in pdf format are designated pdf.)

Marketing Methods Employed

The marketing methods employed by the Evanston Social Norms campaign include:

Evanston Township High School students are of course the primary target audience for the normative messages. Additionally, ETHS parents, community members (n = 60,086) and middle school students have been identified as secondary target audiences for related normative messages.


After the first year of implementation, most key data points had trended in the desired direction; after two years, the data trends were even more broadly positive, such that:

* School staff reported increasing use of true norm messages to students regarding alcohol and cigarettes.
* School staff reported more accurate perceptions of the norms of nonuse by students.
* Parents reported increasing use of true norm messages regarding alcohol to students.
* Parents reported more accurate perceptions of the nonuse norms of students.
* Student perceptions of peer use of alcohol and cigarettes consistently declined, and
* Student use of alcohol and cigarettes was reduced.

Specifically, the 30-day measure of alcohol use dropped from 46% at Time 1 Baseline to 41% at Time 3 (2003), a 5 percentage point decline that represents an 11% reduction in prevalence.

Similarly, student 30-day use of cigarettes went from 16% at baseline to 12% at Time 3, a 4 percentage point drop equaling a 25% reduction in prevalence.

One notable aspect of this intervention is that the Center for Prevention Research and Development was contracted by the Illinois Department of Human Services to independently evaluate its effectiveness. Data for evaluation has been collected using self-report surveys, as well as perception of youth use survey administered to teachers, staff and parents.

The outcome data provided above was reported in the following conference session:
Haines, M. and Christensen, S. "Communities Use a Social Norms Approach to Reduce Teen Alcohol and Tobacco Use: Two Case Studies." Conference presentation at The National Conference on the Social Norms Model, Boston, MA, July 17, 2003.

Project Coordinator

Sara Christensen
Peer Services, Inc.
906 Davis Street
Evanston, Illinois 60201
(847) 492-1778

Further Information

For further information see The Peer Services, Inc. Strength in Numbers web page. Contents of this site include a description of the concept of social norms marketing, as well as information about the Strength in Numbers campaign's objectives, marketing strategies, survey results, marketing materials, and funding

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