Can a media campaign at Tiverton High School help students change misperceptions about marijuana? That’s the question about 10 THS students will explore in Un-Marketing Weed, a new community service learning program funded by a federal block grant and managed by The Tiverton Prevention Coalition.
Likely the first such program in the country, students will work closely with marketing professionals to create and conduct a media campaign designed to correct misperceptions commonly held about marijuana. They will learn basic marketing principles hands-on by engaging in market research, conducting focus groups, creating compelling messages and selecting eye-catching visuals that will become a print and electronic media campaign, scheduled to kick off in February 2013.
The goal of the program is to get more teens to understand the real risks involved in marijuana use, that is, to separate perception from reality. In a survey of THS students in May 2012, 56 percent reported that they saw no serious harm associated with daily marijuana use.
“That 56 percent is a telling number,” said Rebecca Elwell, coalition coordinator. “We are focusing on perception of harm because it is a key measure in prevention. When perception of harm increases, use decreases. So, we are not aiming at a 'just-say no’ campaign. Our focus here is education. We want to make sure that more students understand what science tells us about the harm associated with marijuana use, confident that use will decrease if the real risks are better understood.”
Ed Parr of O’Toole + Parr, the local marketing agency that will work with the students, added, “Marketing needs to be results-oriented and measurable, and the annual Tiverton Health and Wellness Survey will be our measurement tool. If we can increase the number of students who report marijuana use as risky business in a statistically significant way in the May 2013 survey, then we’ll know the campaign was a success.”
Marla Schreffler, a former THS school psychologist, will serve as an advisor to the program.