What is Social Norms Marketing?

Listed by the 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 much of 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.

There are many areas in which people’s behaviors, attitudes or opinions could be shifted by using strategic marketing to realign their perceptions with reality. 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.

Social norms marketing is based on applying social marketing techniques to social norms theory. It is an innovative health promotion technique that has only begun to be understood and used to its full potential. Thus far, MOST of Us® Campaigns using the Montana Model of Social Norms Marketing have proven effective in areas such as preventing tobacco use, increasing seat belt use, and preventing drinking and driving among other issues. However, MOST of Us is committed to finding other applications of this technique in other areas of health promotion and in entirely new fields.