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Drinking and driving can have serious consequences for anyone. But for sailors in the U.S. Navy caught driving under the influence, the career ramifications are much worse. A sailor could suffer financially, forgo advancement, or even lose their job they worked years to attain.
To change the Navy’s deep-seated drinking culture, leaders at the Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (NADAP) office knew they needed to up their game and turned to Booz Allen to re-invigorate alcohol abuse prevention efforts. Starting in 2013, we developed and implemented a comprehensive social marketing campaign called “Keep What You’ve Earned”—including a mobile app, public service announcement (PSA) videos, and action-oriented information to encourage sailors to drink responsibly.
Our human-focused approach has proven to be successful: Since the 2013 campaign launch, about 75 percent of sailors across the Navy are aware of the new program, according to NADAP. What’s more, there’s been a real change in sailor behavior, including a 51 percent decrease in driving under the influence charges immediately following campaign launch, and a 67 percent increase in friends or coworkers finding a safe ride home.
“This is by far the most realistic campaign to date. It's a positive message to keep what you've earned, rather than scare tactics.”
- LT Erin Thorpe, Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor, Navy Recruiting Command
A 2015 survey by the RAND Corporation shows that the rates of heavy drinking among sailors are higher than in the civilian population. But Navy leadership had trouble changing the entrenched drinking culture. The Navy’s long-standing alcohol abuse prevention campaign, “The Right Spirit,” wasn’t resonating. Studies showed sailors found its focus on abstinence ineffective and outdated. NADAP needed an innovative, scalable, and measurable campaign reboot.
Booz Allen’s team of experts used social marketing, the science of behavior change, to guide their process. We wanted to make a program for sailors, by sailors. In focus groups, we asked: What does responsible drinking mean to you? What motivates you? What barriers do you face that can prevent responsible action? What are your preferred methods of communication?
Sailors were unmotivated by liver or heart-disease risks later in
The message of “Keep What You’ve Earned” is simple: Make responsible decisions so you can continue achieving what you worked so hard for. To drive home that message, Booz Allen led a comprehensive communications plan including interactive content, media, digital outreach, and partnership engagement.
Today’s digital-savvy sailors also wanted the message at their fingertips. To encourage responsible drinking, we developed a mobile app—“Pier Pressure”—that sailors played more than 40,000 times. It combines serious games with real-life tools, like access to Uber and Lyft, to help users find a safe ride home, an anonymous self-check to gauge drinking behavior, a calorie counter, and more. We also created video PSAs with sailor-on-the-street interviews.
As in social marketing science, change happens with other things at play. As Booz Allen launched the campaign, the Navy implemented other policy changes regarding alcohol, including random breathalyzers and a reduction in alcohol sale hours on base, fostering a shift that fuels the campaign’s overall success.
Our continued user testing and focus groups help refine messaging and the mobile app experience. The program’s success also offers insights for thinking differently about potential solutions. Changing the Navy’s culture seemed impossible—but it didn’t stop us.
Other organizations might wonder where to start with their own sticky challenges. Because of this highly successful work, Booz Allen is now helping the Department of Defense revamp their substance abuse programs, testing what resonates with soldiers, marines, and airmen.
NOTE: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.