Author: Steve Wright, Director of Strategic Communications

A DECADE OF KEEPING KIDS ALCOHOL-FREE: How R&R Partners Continues to Prevent Underage Drinking Through Innovative, Researched-based Advertising

Experience is what you get when working with R&R Partners to prevent underage drinking—and a lot of it.

Since 2006, R&R Partners has worked with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) to eliminate underage drinking in Utah, a state that historically has the lowest underage drinking rates in the country. But, with the help of R&R Partners, Utah has found a way to further reduce the underage drinking numbers at a rate faster than the national trend. With the evidence-based advertising and communications of R&R Partners, Utah’s efforts have been incredibly successful, building not only the premier prevention program in Utah (Parents Empowered), but arguably the foremost underage drinking prevention program in the nation. In fact, 1 in 5 states has adopted Parents Empowered media materials or strategies to combat underage drinking.

So how does a state with such low underage drinking rates continue to push down the numbers? Below, we share a few of the secrets behind R&R Partners’ nationally recognized Parents Empowered program.


R&R knows that the longer one can stave off a child’s first experimentation with alcohol, the more likely they are to prevent kids from a lifetime of alcohol abuse or related negative social behaviors. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, persons reporting first-use of alcohol before the age of 15 were more than five times as likely to report alcohol dependence as persons who first used alcohol at age 21 or older. And, if a child began experimenting with alcohol before the age of 15, they faced a 67 percent chance of suffering from alcohol-dependence. (SAHMSA, 2003, NSDUH)

As such, R&R understood the need to communicate the harms of underage drinking to parents, who may or may not see the associated risks. For some, drinking is the least harmful substance their child could use, and it may be considered a rite of passage, or even innocent experimentation. And while less than 10 percent of parents say they “agree” that it is OK if their child drinks alcohol sometimes, almost a third of parents feel there is very little they can do to prevent their kids from trying alcohol, and almost two-thirds believe their kids have never tried alcohol at all. (2015 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, April 2015) We leverage these findings, creating messages that empower Utah parents with the knowledge that they can affect their child’s decisions and their likelihood of experimenting with alcohol.


Now, R&R is very proud of the public service messages/advertisements created for Parents Empowered, as well as the national and state recognition, we’re more excited that the advertisements created to prevent underage drinking are effectively motivating parents to set clear rules against underage drinking.

R&R is very proud of their work on Parents Empowered, as the work is both impressive and successful, but even more significant is the continual decrease in underage drinking across Utah over the past decade.

Across Utah, R&R has been incredibly successful in educating parents/guardians about the consequences of early alcohol use and teaching parents the most effective researched-based behaviors proven to help kids grow up alcohol-free—bonding, boundaries and monitoring. Research shows that close to 90 percent of Utah parents now view themselves as the person primarily responsible for their children’s decision whether to drink or not—this is fantastic news. Additionally, underage drinking in Utah has steadily declined since the state began working with R&R Partners, and more parents now report setting clear rules and expectations to keep their kids alcohol-free.

“We needed an agency that could build a program the size of a 747, and launch it from a short runway. R&R Partners has delivered a successful campaign for more than a decade.” − Art Brown, President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Utah Chapter

R&R Partners’ promise to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control—and to every client—is simple, “We will help you win in ways you haven’t yet imagined.” Providing creative, measurable and effective solutions is what we do best. Parents Empowered continues to receive a steady stream of new, unique, effective ideas that raise awareness among parents of the harms related to underage drinking and what parents can do to prevent it.


As a general rule of thumb, innovation isn’t R&R’s primary measure of success—it’s efficacy. Aiming to be extremely innovative doesn’t always lead to effective solutions in social cause marketing, whereas aiming to be extremely effective almost always results in innovation.

The efficacy and innovation of R&R’s work on Parents Empowered has twice won the “Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Media Award for Outstanding Community Awareness Campaign,” and has been recognized as a Prevention Best Practice by Service to Science, with additional recognition from the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD) for Innovation in Prevention.

To build a campaign that is both innovative and effective, R&R knew research-based messaging needed to serve as the campaign’s foundation. Since the inception of Parents Empowered, R&R has helped to lead the campaign strategy by grounding all message recommendations in academic research and proven prevention practices. R&R’s past 10 years’ experience working directly with national and state prevention networks, and leveraging federal prevention best practices, has prepared us to motivate long-term sustainable change among key audiences, but also positions us to evolve the campaign using new trends and target audience insight.

For example, we capitalized on research-driven messaging in the development of the “Halo” ad that addressed parents’ mistaken perception that their child is immune from underage drinking. Halo delivered the message to parents that even good kids need help to remain alcohol-free.

More recently, the “Bobble head” broadcast message was developed in response to new research that identified a disconnect between fathers and mothers (especially in single-parent homes) who may not have the same attitudes about alcohol and underage drinking, and often don’t share the same rules and boundaries to keep kids alcohol-free. Many parents in research focus groups expressed the belief that underage drinking was dangerous, but felt their spouses may not feel the same way. This ad works to change the social norm and urge parents to agree on clear rules to prevent underage drinking.

Not only does R&R Partners have more than 10 years of success working on underage drinking prevention, but it has truly become the agency’s way of thinking—it is now our approach to our business and our way to give back to our communities. It is no surprise that more than a dozen states have solicited the help of R&R Partners to address public health and safety issues and change social norms.


Just as the Utah DABC and other community partners feel ownership in efforts to improve the health and safety of their communities, so does R&R Partners. We believe in the need to be socially responsible, helping to improve the communities where we live. The social causes we back are as much our passion as our clients’.

“R&R is not our vendor, but an equal partner. It is rare to find an advertising agency that believes in your cause as much as you do.” – Doug Murakami, Director of Alcohol Education, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

We’re committed to eliminating underage drinking with everything we have in our toolbox—strategic planning, advertising, digital marketing, mass media, nontraditional media, social media, public relations, and government and public affairs. And with all our expertise under one roof, we can, and will, continue to deliver powerful ideas and solutions for each social cause marketing campaign we build. We invite you to leverage R&R Partners’ passion and expertise to help launch your innovative and effective social cause marketing campaign.



The Utah Department of Highway Safety hired R&R Partners to promote a simple—and commonsense—message during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.

Don’t drink and drive.

Over the last five years, there have been 23 alcohol-related crashes on St. Patrick’s Day, placing it among the top three deadliest holidays in Utah. The team at R&R Partners understood the need to create a behavior change among St. Patrick’s Day celebrators—seems like an easy task—but how does one take a decade-old message that nobody pays attention to anymore and re-say it in a way that changes behavior, especially during a holiday that has become synonymous with alcohol?

On the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, R&R launched the latest DUI prevention campaign with the help of statewide law enforcement and strategic partnerships with local bars and taverns. Uniformed officers and local actors dressed as living statues of the Saints of Sobriety, including: St. Haylor of Cab, saint of wise travelers; St. Cristyl O’Clearhead, saint of responsible drinking; and St. Alweis the Appointed, saint of designated drivers, stood outside entrances to bars/taverns, urging patrons to celebrate responsibly. Those patrons who pledged to get home safely received a coin from law enforcement, and when deposited in the statue’s hat, activated an interactive performance by the living saint statue. To assist in additional awareness, each bar also placed a stained glass display at their location to communicate the importance of sober driving on Utah’s roads.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 12.02.21 PM

Yes, it’s another obvious observation, but it’s also the key to R&R’s drunk driving prevention success. If people get so drunk that they can’t remember their names, how can somebody expect them to remember a TV commercial they saw last week telling them not to drink and drive? Instead, R&R Partners’ push to advertise as close as possible to the point of decision—that moment between when people finish their last beer and pull out their car keys—is vital to immediate behavior change.

In one day, a marketing investment of approximately $10,000 turned into nearly $100,000 worth of local media attention and roughly 1.3 million of news media impressions. And even more impressive is that for the first time, Utah had zero alcohol-related accidents or fatalities for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Trooper Lawrence Hopper from Utah Highway Patrol shared, “We wanted to find a way to drive down the number of alcohol-related incidents on Utah roadways, but do so without ending the good times and celebration. With the help of R&R, we not only reached our goal, but surpassed it, creating a community-wide movement that altered the way both patrons and bar owners think about holiday celebrations.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 12.01.46 PM

By partnering with local businesses, placing timely messages at the point of consumption, and creating innovative and creative DUI prevention messages, R&R Partners created a new best-practice in social norms marketing. For a message that hasn’t been newsworthy in decades, that you shouldn’t drink and drive, that’s pretty good.