During my senior year at Chapman University studying Strategic & Corporate Communication, I had the experience of taking Message Design II with Dr. Sara LaBelle. The project we put most emphasis on during this course was developing and managing the Rethink Campaign. Since 2017, the ReThink campaign at Chapman has set out to use strategic message design to turn students away from prescription stimulant misuse. been Managed by students under Dr. LaBelle, this previous Fall 2020 semester I had the opportunity to extend previous iterations of the campaign and the overall Rethink effort. This year’s campaign specifically sought to address stimulant misuse of college students in correlation to high-stress levels as a byproduct of both the COVID-19 quarantine and the innate stress college students face.
Prescription stimulants are prescribed to individuals diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (AD(H)D), which are stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and Vyvanse, which help individuals diagnosed with AD(H)D to be able to relax and focus. These prescription stimulants have a variety of effects such as suppression of appetite, increased energy, and increased focus; which is a cocktail for disaster when given the opportunity for misuse with college students (NIDA,2014).
These prescription stimulants are typically used for performance enhancement, recreational use, and appetite suppression; and most of the time, students aren’t aware of both the illegal nature of the drug (if not diagnosed & prescribed) and the harmful effects stimulants can permanently cause to the body. A survey study on prevalent prescription stimulant misuse from the National College Health Assessment had estimated that 8% of college students have taken Adderall without a prescription, while also reporting up to 43% of participants experienced lifetime prevalent misuse with stimulants (American College Health Association, 2015).
The midsts of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused even greater mental distress upon college students, as a recent study from the CDC on the effects of the pandemic and mental health has identified about ¼ of college students ages 18-24 have considered suicide in September of 2020; about 4 months into quarantine (Anderson, 2020). To even further the effects of COVID-19, a separate study conducted by Chegg.org and four youth mental health advocacy and suicide prevention organizations, found that on September 10th, 2020, 58% of college students stated they are “moderately”, “very”, or “extremely” concerned with their mental health. Another 46% of students also illustrated they are nervous or even scared to return back to campus during the following fall semester. Even in our pretest survey of 76 Chapman students, 90% of participants said they have experienced an increase an anxiety (n = 68, 90%) and 75% of participants said they’ve experienced depression as a direct result of quarantine (n = 56, 75%).
To strategically complete our objectives during this semester’s campaign, we decided to both implement the Theory of Planned Behavior and the Theory of Normative Social Behavior to our message design. If you are not familiar with either of these, the Theory of Planned Behavior is a psychological theory that states that together, attitudes, subjective norms, and one’s perceived behavioral control shape the behavioral intentions of the individual. First coined by Icek Ajzen, this theory’s purpose is to understand and explain the motivation behind the behavior of people and infers the most effective way to change behavior is to affect the individual’s intention to perform a behavior. In doing so, it is necessary to address the three factors: behavioral beliefs, perceived behavioral control, and normative beliefs. The Rethink Campaign used this framework to attempt in changing the behavioral and normative beliefs in regards to prescription stimulant misuse within local Orange County college students (with specific emphasis on Chapman students). The Theory of Normative Social Behavior illustrates that the perception of others (descriptive norms) has a great influence on the perception of what one is expected to do (injunctive norms). This campaign specifically focused on the Theory of Planned behavior to conduct our research & strategically construct message designs, but our team kept the Theory of Normative Social Behavior in mind throughout the campaign.
For the management of the Fall, 2020 ReThink campaign, our team had reformed our mission statement to read the following:
“The Rethink Campaign is organized by Strategic and Corporate Communication students at Chapman University, with the goal of inspiring peer-driven conversations about the risks of misusing prescription stimulants. In order to achieve this goal, the Rethink Campaign acknowledges and addresses the myriad influences of this behavior, including but not limited to college students’ perceptions of peer pressure, academic self-efficacy and stress, and various aspects of mental and physical well-being. By encouraging these conversations and making such connections, we can reduce the normalization of this behavior in our campus community. With the help of our friend Addy, we hope our peers will “rethink” the misuse of prescription stimulant medications.“
With both the rising prevalence of prescription stimulant misuse and the overwhelming concern for college students’ mental health during COVID-19, the Rethink Campaign set course to understand and positively manipulate students’ subjective norms & attitudes towards the betterment of their mental health & avoidance of prescription stimulants. Our objectives of this campaign were to:
- Objective #1: To change students’ attitudes toward prescription stimulant misuse.
- Objective #2: To alter students’ subjective norms surrounding prescription stimulant misuse.
- Objective #3: To increase students’ knowledge of the health and legal risks of stimulant misuse.
- Objective #4: To promote mental wellness by connecting students with the resources to maintain and better their own mental and physical health.
In this three-week “virtual” campaign, we had set course to disrupt normative & behavioral beliefs of prescription stimulant misuse through a multitude of channels such as our social media, website, and strategic partners. We tracked metrics throughout various methods of collecting data, such as running pre-test and post-test surveys and recovering user navigated channel data on our Instagram. Our primary source of collecting & interpreting data was used through Google Survey and analyzed using IBM’s SPSS. Over this three week campaign we had run a pre-test to understand the initial perceived normative & behavioral beliefs before contact with our messages, and then ran a post-test to analyze the efficacy of our campaign.
Over the three weeks of our campaign, we had constructed a plan to best influence the behavioral beliefs, perceived behavioral control, and normative beliefs of our audience using strategic messaging. Portraying ourselves as an authority figure and forcing information on the negative effects of unprescribed stimulants to our audience would generate apprehension; having an adverse effect on our intended behavioral change. In response to this, our messaging team handcrafted messages & activities for our audience to participate in, so we portrayed ourselves as friends extending a helping hand, rather than a parent telling them how they should behave. We were provided a budget by Chapman University that we used to buy participation incentives ($10-$25 gift certificates), celebrity Cameo appearances, and ReThink campaign T-Shirts. We used these monetary & social currencies as incentives for individuals to participate in virtual trivia, bingo, yoga events, and social media re-posts so we could disseminate our messages as far as we possibly could and keep students engaged.
After strategically partnering with Dr. Bowles and Dr. Hannah Ball, administrators at Chapman University, we ran public virtual events over Zoom such as “Coffee with Dr. Ball” and “Yoga with Dr. Bowles” which served to stimulate our audience participation. Our messaging team did a fantastic job ensuring our posts were relevant, appealed to our audience’s age group, and again, came off as a neutral, educational third party. As previously mentioned, our Pr/Ad team successfully managed to connect with both celebrities Danny Greene & Matt King to shout us out on Instagram, which played a pivoting role in developing traction to our main page and website. As seen below, this is an example of a message we posted on Instagram during the time of Halloween and midterms. Our mascot, Addy, can be seen wearing the costume of a popular game at the time, Among Us, and our goal was to combine current events with relatable material with respect to our underlying message; taking unprescribed stimulants is bad for your physical & mental health. All examples of Instagram promotion, Cameos, and advertisement can be found at the bottom of this blog.
At the end of our campaign, we were able to quantify the traffic to our website & socials to determine how widely our messages broadcasted. By the end of our campaign we had reached +6,165.9% more accounts in the past 30 days compared to pre-campaign period (Sept 25 – Oct 24), 14,300 total accounts reached, 1,1076 content interactions (+1,095.5%), 467 total followers (+25.2%), 24 posts shared, 37 stories, and 2 IGTV Videos (i.e., the Cameos). Our Cameos were a big hit in California, as both the Cameos from Danny Greene and Matt King reached a total of 16,398 individuals on Instagram, with an average of 96.5% of those individuals not previously following us. These messages along with our virtual zoom events were our primary drive to catalyze behavioral change to our audience’s inclination to doing prescription stimulants without a prescription.
Using these strategic messages as the primary drive to stimulate behavioral change, we came up with a few hypotheses to postulate the effectiveness of our campaign. Our hypotheses were:
H1: College students’ behavioral beliefs regarding prescription stimulant misuse will be more negative at the posttest than at the pretest.
H2: College students’ normative beliefs regarding prescription stimulant misuse will be more negative at the posttest than at the pretest.
H3: College students’ perceived behavioral control regarding prescription stimulant misuse will be more negative at the posttest than at the pretest.
To best illustrate the data in correlation to our messaging efforts, I am going to portray how we collected data, the strategic messages we disseminated, and compare the post-test to our pretest to put our data into concluding evidence. To properly disseminate our survey, members from our research team reached out to a variety of professors from each School/Union on campus to have their students voluntarily participate in our random cluster sample survey. We created a 50 question survey, primarily asking 7-point Likert scale questions regarding individual student data, how COVID-19 lockdown has affected their mental health, and their willingness/history of taking non-prescription stimulants before & during this pandemic.
The total amount of participants in our overall sample was 76. There were 33 individuals in the pretest (n = 33, 43.4%), 28 individuals in the posttest (n = 28, 36.8%) , and there were 15 individuals who took both the pre and post-test (n = 15, 19.7%). From this sample, with age ranges from 18-23, the average age was 20 years old (M=20.82) and the average class year of the participants was Seniors (n = 52, 68.4%). The individuals in our sample were primarily female (n = 48, 63.2%) with males accounting for 36.8% of our survey (n = 28, 36.8%). The most common reported ethnicity is White/Caucasian (n = 53, 69.7%). The other ethnicities include: Hispanic/Latino (n = 7, 9.2%), Black/African American (n = 1, 1.3%), Asian/Asian American (n = 9, 11.8%), Middle Eastern (n = 1, 1.3%), and Bi/Multiracial (n = 5, 6.6%). In the pre-test, 19% of individuals had already heard of the Rethink Campaign (n = 15, 19.7%), and 74% of individuals in the post-test (n = 56, 73.7%) had heard of the Rethink Campaign. The average GPA of our sample was 3.55, with a minimum of 2.8 and a maximum of 4.0. In terms of our samples participation in Greek Life, 56% of individuals said they are apart of Greek Life (n = 42, 56%), 13% said they used to be active in Greek Life (n = 10,13.3%), and 31% had said they have never been apart of Greek Life (n = 23, 30.7%). When we asked participants if they had been familiar with the Rethink Campaign, in the pretest, 74% of participants said they were familiar (n = 56, 73.7%), and 20% of individuals had heard of the Rethink Campaign in the post-test (n =15, 19.7%). Please note, not everybody who participated in the pre-test had also participated in the post-test.
H1: Our results to our sample in correlation to our hypothesis after running and analyzing both the pre-test and post-test are as follows. Our initial hypothesis had predicted that college students’ behavioral beliefs regarding prescription stimulant misuse would have been more negative on the post-test than it was at the pre-test. We had run an Independent Samples T-test and the results did not rapport this hypothesis, t(61) = -2.74, p < 0.05. We had found that students reported more positive attitudes toward misuse in the post-test (M= 3.24, SD= 1.05) than they had in the pre-test (M=2.48, SD= 1.11). Hypothesis one was not supported.
H2: Our second hypothesis had predicted that college students’ normative beliefs would be more negative at the post-test than it had been at the pre-test regarding prescription stimulant misuse. Results of an Independent Samples T-test also did not support this hypothesis, t(61) = -1.417, p > 0.5. Against our hypothesis, students reported more positive perceptions of normative misuse in the post-test (M= 3.67, SD= 1.07) than in the pre-test (M=3.30, SD= 0.98). Hypothesis two was not supported.
H3: Finally, we predicted in our third hypothesis that college students’ perceived behavioral control regarding prescription stimulant misuse will be more negative at the post-test than it was perceived in the pre-test. This hypothesis was not supported, and as we ran an Independent Samples T-test, we found that t(61) = -.276, p > .05. Here, the students reported a higher perception of willingness to misuse in the post-test (M = 5.07, SD = 1.53) than it had in the pre-test (M= 4.95, SD= 1.53). Hypothesis three was also not supported.
As an outcome of our campaign, we did not successfully change the normative beliefs or behaviors of our audience during our 3-week span managing the ReThink Campaign. I believe we faced hardships & limitations in doing so, considering the impact of COVID-19 and our campaign being strictly virtual, I believe that if we had the luxury of not being in lockdown, we would have run a more effective campaign if we have had the option of being in-person. As for the implications of this study, even though our results proved in effect and against our hypotheses, I think what can really be said about our campaign is how powerful the effects social media has on our generation. We were only able to run this campaign virtually, and in a short three weeks, we were able to generate a tremendous amount of buzz and traffic amongst our socials (specifically Instagram). We found that Cameos especially market themselves and that strategic messaging can still inform the masses, even though our surveys showed their behavior wasn’t changed. I still believe this campaign was a tremendous success and an even better learning experience, and even though our audience’s normative or behavioral behaviors around prescription stimulant misuse were not changed from our campaign, we still had the opportunity to educate the individuals who visited our pages and events. For reference to ReThink’s website, you can visit: https://www.rethinkcampaign.org/
Hanover, MD. (2015). American College Health Association. National College Health Assessment II: Undergraduate student reference group executive report. Retrieved from http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/NCHA-
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2014). Stimulant ADHD medications: Methylphenidate and amphetamines. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/stimulant-adhd-medications-methylphenidate-amphetamines
Anderson, Greta. (2020) Students in great need of mental health support during the pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/09/11/students-great-need-mental-health-support-during-pandemic?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=e498ba541f-DNU_2020_COPY_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-e498ba541f-
COVID-19 and Mental Health: How America’s High School and College Students are Coping During This Pandemic. (2020) Chegg.org. Retrieved from https://www.chegg.org/covid-19-mental-health-2020
To see what I specifically worked on during this campaign, click the PDF below: