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Effectiveness: 2 Star Cost: $$$
Use: High
Time: Medium

A mass media campaign consists of intensive communication and outreach activities regarding alcohol-impaired driving that use radio, television, print, social, and other mass media, both paid or earned. Mass media campaigns are a standard part of every State’s effort to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. Some campaigns publicize a deterrence or prevention measure such as a change in a State’s DWI laws or a checkpoint or other highly visible enforcement program. Others promote specific behaviors such as the use of designated drivers, illustrate how impaired driving can injure and kill, or simply urge the public not to drink and drive. Campaigns vary enormously in quality, size, duration, funding, and many other ways. Effective campaigns identify a specific target audience and communications goal and develop messages and delivery methods that are appropriate to—and effective for—the audience and goal (Williams, 2007).


Most States use some form of alcohol-impaired-driving mass media campaign every year. Mass media campaigns are an essential part of many deterrence and prevention countermeasures that depend on public knowledge to be effective.


Most mass media campaigns are not evaluated. Elder et al. (2004) studied the few available high-quality evaluations. The campaigns being evaluated were carefully planned, well- funded, well-executed, achieved high levels of audience exposure (usually by using paid advertising), had high-quality messages that were pre-tested for effectiveness, and were conducted in conjunction with other impaired-driving activities (usually enforcement). These mass media campaigns were associated with a 13% reduction in alcohol-related crashes. In general, mass media outreach works best when it is one part of a multifaceted campaign that includes HVE (see the enforcement countermeasures in this chapter). Levy et al. (2004) documented the costs and media strategy of a high-quality national media campaign and its effects on driver knowledge and awareness.

Broad campaigns may not be as effective as single-issue campaigns: the “More Cops More Stops” campaign covered impaired driving, seat belt use, and speeding enforcement and was deployed from November 2011 to August 2013 in Oklahoma and Tennessee as a standalone campaign, and in conjunction with specific enforcement campaigns (e.g., Click It or Ticket and Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over). The campaign evaluation used driver awareness surveys in program and control regions in addition to roadside BrAC data. Although there was a small but significant decline in the percentage of drivers with positive BrACs in the two tested program areas, overall there was not enough evidence to suggest that the More Cops More Stops campaign added to the impact of ongoing campaigns. Instead, the complex focus of the campaign may have exacerbated enforcement fatigue (Nichols et al., 2016).


High-quality and effective mass media campaigns are expensive. Funds are needed for market research, design, pre-testing, and production. Paid advertising expenses depend on the media chosen and the media markets needed to reach the target audience.

Time to implement:

A high-quality mass media campaign will require at least 6 months to research, plan, produce, and distribute.

Other considerations:

  • Campaign quality: Poor-quality or stand-alone campaigns that are not tied to program activities are unlikely to be effective. Similarly, although public service announcements are a relatively inexpensive way to deliver messages about impaired driving, they are likely to be aired infrequently, reach small audiences, miss the target audience, and have little or no effect. To be successful, mass media campaigns must be carefully pre-tested, communicate information not previously known, be long-term, and have substantial funding (Williams, 2007).
  • Comprehensive media strategy: Mass media campaigns should be planned as part of an overall communications and outreach strategy that supports specific impaired-driving activities, such as enforcement.
  • Fear appeals: A common approach in media campaigns is to provoke fear or anxiety by depicting the severe negative consequences of impaired driving (e.g., injuries/deaths; grieving family members). Although commonly used, the evidence suggests this approach can potentially increase undesirable behaviors (Wundersitz et al., 2010). For this reason, fear appeals should be used with caution and other types of approaches should be considered first, especially in media campaigns targeted at youth.
  • Social norms campaigns: Social norms marketing campaigns are a more recent approach to reducing alcohol-related crashes. They are built on the premise that an individual’s behavior is influenced by his or her perceptions of how most people behave. However, people often assume that unsafe behaviors (e.g., drinking and driving, seat belt nonuse) are more common than they actually are. By correcting these misperceptions, social norms programs encourage people to adopt the “norm,” which is the safe behavior. A study in Montana demonstrated the potential effectiveness of this approach. Surveys of young adults 21 to 34 years old in Montana revealed that only 20% had driven in the previous month after consuming two or more alcoholic drinks, although more than 90% thought their peers had done so (Linkenbach & Perkins, 2005). Based on this finding, a paid media campaign was developed with the normative message, “MOST Montana Young Adults (4 out of 5) Don’t Drink and Drive.” By the end of the campaign, reported drunk driving among young adults in target counties decreased from 22.9% to 20.9%, while the percentage in non-targeted counties increased from 16.9% to 28.6%.
  • Social media: NHTSA and most States have begun using social networking sites to reach the general public with messages concerning alcohol-impaired driving. Although sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube can effectively and inexpensively reach large numbers of people, there are no evaluations of alcohol-impaired-driving campaigns that use this approach. Like mass media campaigns and other types of communication described above, social media is unlikely to be effective as a stand-alone strategy; however, it may be a useful approach when combined with other communications to support specific impaired-driving activities. A recent survey of the role and use of social media in traffic safety messaging recommended six practices to incorporate social media in outreach efforts (Sack et al., 2019). These include reusing the same messages across traditional and social media platforms, using images and videos strategically, timing the messaging and content appropriately, and collaborating with other agencies to maximize visibility.