Youth who drink alcohol are at greater risk of dropping out of school, participating in unprotected sexual activity, getting arrested, driving drunk, committing suicide or homicide, having memory problems, abusing drugs, and suffering from alcohol poisoning. When Baltimore youth were surveyed about underage drinking, 37.5% of eleventh graders reported alcohol use in the past 30-days.
In partnership with Behavioral Health System Baltimore, the Center for Social Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is working to reverse this trend by empowering the youth themselves to create their own solutions.
In the spring of 2014, MICA facilitated a series of design and media literacy workshops with a group of high school students in Baltimore's Oliver community. Together, the MICA students and high schoolers worked to identify the root causes of underage drinking and understand how alcohol advertising works.
Instead of creating traditional victim-blaming public service announcements, the team developed a "counter-ad" campaign that instead blames alcohol companies for targeting youth.
Colt45's fruity malt beverage, Blast, was a perfect target. The drink comes in colorful cans that resemble soda, pairs an alcohol content of 12%with flavors like strawberry lemonade and raspberry watermelon, and uses hip hop icon Snoop Dogg to appeal to a younger audience.
Using the same bright visual language as Blast, the students created posters, postcards, t-shirts, and buttons marketing a new product - B.A.R.F. (Beer and Alcohol Ruin Futures). In the ads,Colt45's signature slogan, "Works Every Time," takes on new meaning in front of images of emergency rooms, car accidents, jail time, vomiting, and death.
The students launched the B.A.R.F. campaign with a peer-to-peer presentation for local youth at a community youth wellness day in East Baltimore. They helped attendees create their own B.A.R.F. buttons, distributed postcards, and plastered the community with posters.
While the effect of the B.A.R.F. campaign on the landscape of underage drinking in Baltimore is still being evaluated, the impact on the youth involved in the project is overwhelmingly positive. Pre and post surveys from workshop participants showed an overall increase in the ability to collaborate on a team, think creatively to brainstorm new ideas, translate sketches into digital formats, and listen to peer feedback in order to improve work. All participants strongly agreed that drinking alcohol is bad for their health and that graphic design and counter-ads can increase the awareness of alcohol-related issues among their peers. Ultimately, the best indicator of success is that 100% of students returned for the Fall 2014 continuation of the project. Building on the success of the Spring 2014 workshops, the students are continuing to spread the B.A.R.F. message and help other youth in Baltimore recognize the dangers of underage drinking.
MICA Center for Social Design
Director: Mike Weikert
Project Leads: Becky Slogeris and Ryan Clifford
Design Team: Jessica Crowell, Daniel Khang, Julia Marvel, Yeonoo Shin, Meghan Wittbrodt
Participating High Schools: Institute of Notre Dame, Dunbar High School, St. Frances Academy
About MICA's Center for Social Design
The Center for Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is dedicated to demonstrating and promoting the value of design in addressing complex social problems and to inspiring and preparing the next generation of creative changemakers. The Center's Practice-based Studios bring MICA students from a variety of disciplines together with outside partners from government, nonprofit, and business sectors to identify opportunities, generate ideas, and make tools for positive social change. To date, the Practice-based Studios have brought together more than 200 students across 12 disciplines at MICA to collaborative with outside partners on more than 50 projects dealing with issues from affordable housing to HIV/AIDS prevention to disaster preparedness.www.micasocialdesign.com
About Behavioral Health System Baltimore
Behavioral Health System Baltimore (BHSB) is the area's leading expert and resource in advancing behavioral health and wellness. The organization helps guide innovative approaches to prevention, early intervention, treatment, and recovery for those who are dealing with mental health and substance use disorders in order to help build healthier individuals, stronger families, and safer communities.www.bhsbaltimore.org
About Oliver Community Association
The Oliver Community Association ofEast Baltimore is a resource for people who live in the Oliver community andwant to help prevent substance abuse, promote mental health, and prevent related health and social problems.myolivercommunity.org
You can find a bar on almost every corner in East Baltimore, many opening their doors as early as 6 am. Community centers are closed and playgrounds are drug infested. 19.7% of residents are unemployed. Only 43% of kindergartners start school ready to learn and chronic absenteeism is at 45.3%.When local students were surveyed about underage drinking, it’s no surprise that 37.5% of eleventh graders reported alcohol use in the past 30-days.Unfortunately, we know that youth who drink are atgreater risk of dropping out of school, participating in unprotected sexual activity, getting arrested, driving drunk, committing suicide or homicide, having memory problems, abusing drugs, and suffering from alcohol poisoning.
In 2009, the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration was awarded funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to develop and implement the Maryland Strategic Prevention Framework (MSPF). The main priority of this framework is to reduce the misuse of alcohol by youth and young adults, and the MSPF Coalition has made it a goal to reduce the number of youth reporting past month alcohol use. The Oliver community was chosen as a target neighborhood based on need and readiness for the intervention.
MICA's partnership with Behavioral Health Systems and the Oliver Community Association is one facet of MSPF's strategic plan. In addition to the youth counter-ad design workshops, MSPF is conductingliquor store compliance checks and advocating for policy change.
Why Counter Ads?
Media has a major influence on young people's drinking behavior. By 2009, at least 13 longitudinal studies published in peer-reviewed journals had followed groups of young people over time, measured their media habits and exposure to drinking behavior at baseline, and found that those with greater exposure to alcohol marketing were more likely to start drinking or, if already drinking atbaseline, drink more. (Anderson P, De Bruijn A, Angus K, Gordon R, Hastings
G. Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use:
a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2009;44(3):229-243.)
The good news? We know from experience with tobacco that, if done well, media campaigns can change youth behavior for the better. (Siegel M, Biener L. The impact of an antismoking media campaign on progression to established smoking: results of a longitudinal youth study. American Journal of Public Health. 2000; 90(3): 380-386.) The most successful anti-tobacco campaigns (ie. Truth)utilizeda form of messaging that has been termed "counter-advertising."Instead of focusing on individual behavior like
traditional public service announcements, counter-ads address features of the
broader social environment and system. They are often controversial, playing
off of corporate advertising to reveal the hidden truth of a particular
Because of the success of past counter-ad campaigns, MICA and BHSB decided to use a similar counter-advertising approach to guarantee maximum impact. Additionally, engaging high school students to develop the counter-ads ensures that the messaging and design approach will be well received by thetarget demographic - youth and young adults.
The Center for Social Design utilizes a human-centered and collaborative process to understand socialproblems, identify opportunities for intervention and generate ideas, and make tools that support positive change. Our goal is to shift relationships between people and people, and people and institutions. Our process includes three interwoven phases:
1. Research and Immersion:At this stage students work to understand the culture and context ofthe problem byunderstanding the culture and context of people. They talk to, observe, and learn from the audience and stakeholders to locate needs and assets.
Before designing the youth workshops, the MICA team (1) researched the particular conditions of underage drinking in Baltimore, (2) read public health articles to identify best practices for youth advocacy interventions and counter-ad development, (3) met with subject matter experts from the Johns Hopkin's Center for Advertising Marketing and Youth (CAMY), Oliver Community Association, and theMaryland Strategic Prevention Framework (MSPF), and (4) evaluated results from previous focus groups and an existing Oliver community needs assessment.
2. Synthesis & Ideation: During this phase, students compile observations and research findings and look for common themes and insights. Students identify appropriate opportunities for intervention and generate as many ideas as possible.
Using the initial research as a foundation, the MICA team crafted a series of weekly workshops to guide the high school students through the counter-ad designprocess from start to finish:
Workshop 1: Introduction to project & relationship building
Workshop 2: Constructing a media landscape (identifying popular music, movies, magazines, tv shows, etc.)
Workshop 3: Media literacy lecture & counter-ad exercise (deconstructing alcohol advertising & brainstorming alternative messaging and imagery)
Workshop 4: Design basics & photoshop tutorial (taking sketches from the previous week and making them digital)
Workshop 5: Field trip to MICA (finalizing designs from the week before in a professional studio environment)
Workshop 6: Critique of designs
Workshop 7: Final celebration
After each session with the high school students, the MICA team gathered to reflect on the day,continue research, prepare lesson plans, and make necessary adjustments for future workshops.
3. Prototyping & Implementation: During the prototyping phase, students make tangible representations of ideas and share and apply them in context. Students test, iterate, and develop with people. The feedback collected then informs strategies and solutions that are more likely to be adopted and implemented.
After the MICA team and high schoolers finalized their designs, they presented the concepts to a group of local Baltimore youth during a community wellness festival and collected feedback from their peers.
Based on input from the high schoolers and community partners, MICA & BHSB made plans to continue in the project in Fall 2014 as a full year effort. This adjustment allows time for more peer-to-peer presentations and the addition of new workshop elements that will broaden the reach of the campaign - including thedevelopment of a hip-hop song and music video using the B.A.R.F. messaging.
As the project continues, MICA is working with an outside evaluator to measure the effectiveness of B.A.R.F. campaign and counter-ad workshop model.
In the mean time, qualitative feedback from the high schoolers involved show how influential being a part of the program has been for them, exposing them to the professional pathway of design and providing them with tools to create change in their own communities:
“I hope that they are affected by the campaign and actually take it seriously, see that there are teens working to help other teens out. We’re not just doing it to do it. We really care.”
“I have a lot of older cousins, and a lot of them have been influenced by those things (underage drinking.) I know what it’s like because of them, and I want to make sure that I stay away from it.”
"I never thought we could be that creative."
"They really showed us what we can do as a group to accomplish things"
Given the success of this project, MICA's Center for Social Design iseager to continue this model of youth engagement to create social change within other topic areas.