Risky Drinking: the Un-Conference.

“Alcohol is the most commonly used substance by youth. Two thirds of all junior and senior students reported having consumed alcohol on the past year” – Marianne Kobus Matthews quoting from the Canadian Addiction Survey, 2004 Risky Drinking: the Un-Conference.

The Youth and Alcohol- Message and Media Project (YAMM) was developed to address social marketing issues concerning the way alcohol is marketed to today’s youth. Youth advisors as well as other youth participants with leadership experience, creative minds and an active interest in the topic of alcohol awareness attended the conference. They were aided by professionals from the health promotion field, the media, drug prevention agencies and mental health groups to come up with successful ideas that could be used to market the dangers of risky drinking to youths in a future province wide awareness campaign.

The term Un-conference was created by the youth advisory as YAMM was meant to be an “unconventional convention for youth” where youth’s ideas, experiences and strategies were used first and foremost.

“Think about the smartest boy in your class who always has something intelligent to say – now think of him with his eyes rolled back in his head, face completely green and puke all over him. This is an experience I will never forget. I attended a kegger for about 300 people. People were extremely drunk, house was a mess, cops were called, and it was a total disaster. However, the worse part was bringing this kid home to his parents.” – Nicole Pacheo, Brooklyn, Youth Advisor, Risky Drinking: The Un-Conference.

“Where I come from, drinking is a big thing, especially amongst teens. I live in a small rural community where there is often little or nothing to do so drinking is normally on the agenda for many. I recently attended a licensed dance at a local establishment where alcohol was flying. Of course you had to be 19 to be served but it was extremely easy to get around that. Anyway, I remember the atmosphere was hot, sweaty and sticky with booze. Your feet stuck to the floor and people sloshed their drinks all over the place. I remember seeing friends fumbling around stupors, knocking into people and tables. It was funny but a scary sight. Drunken teens were everywhere but we still got away with it.” – Kathleen McTavish, Petrolia, Youth Advisor, Risky Drinking: The Un-Conference

“Now, more than ever, you all need to understand that effective public service or social messaging has to work like successful private market messaging. Your competition for mind share is Nike, Pepsi, Much Music, Grand Theft Auto, Billy Talent, local and national public service messages, Michael Moors and so on…” Mike Farrell, Youthography, “Communicating with Young Canadians”, Risky Drinking; The Un-Conference

Key devices, which were used throughout the conference, included:
Teams: delegates were broken into 3 teams-each led by 3 youth advisors and one Creative director from one of the Social Marketing Firms who took part in the project.
Mentoring: Each youth advisor was assigned 5-6 youths in their team to help welcome and make the youths feel comfortable
Team Building: the youth advisors laid out the guidelines and expectations. Each youth participated in unity promoting exercises including; the geographic line up, which represented the diverse communities present at the conference. As well, the snow ball exercise, which involved having a snowball fight with crumpled pieces of paper, written on by each participant, and then matching the papers to the people who wrote them.

Each Team was given a camera to record their activities, their progress and whatever they wished during the conference. Surveys were filled out by all delegates, which helped identify the positive features of the Un-conference, and the impact of marketing on youth purchases-including alcohol marketing. A documentary of the event was made by Jay Prychidny to be distributed as part of the project resource kit. The information and experiences expressed by the youth advisory and other participants aided in understanding how alcohol awareness and prevention could be successfully and competitively marketed to youths.

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