Can ads put end to wild South Side behavior?

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The ad shows a guy slumped over the bar, passed out.

Somebody affixed a big "L," for "Loser," to the back of his shirt.

"Hey drunk guy!" the ad says. "The girl you were talking to left with someone else. Drinking too much makes you less socially desirable."

That attention-grabbing message and others like it may pop up in the South Side and other neighborhoods later this year as part of Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus' efforts to bring more responsible behavior to the city's party scene.

Mr. Kraus said the "edgy" collection of ads -- suggesting that excessive drinking is a turn-off to the opposite sex and can cause impotence -- are perfect for the young revelers who throng the South Side each weekend and sometimes leave the neighborhood with a killer hangover from noise, public urination and other problems.

He said he hopes the ads would help to "start a conversation" about civility.

"I think we're trying to shine a light on people's behavior that I don't believe is necessarily intentional," he said, noting that some might be "mortified" by their actions if they could see them the next day.

The ads -- already used to discourage excessive drinking and public urination in places such as Gainesville, Fla., and Edmonton, Canada -- would be part of a larger initiative Mr. Kraus envisions to improve conditions in the South Side and other entertainment districts.

An intern in Mr. Kraus' office last year developed an 85-page plan for managing the South Side's nighttime economy, a blueprint developed largely using principles of the California-based Responsible Hospitality Institute. Among other recommendations, it calls for late-night code-enforcement inspections, a special police unit, a code of conduct for visitors and an advertising blitz to promote responsible behavior.

Mr. Kraus he hopes to refine the plan and generate additional ideas at a June 8 "sociable city" forum at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel, an event Responsible Hospitality Institute is hosting at his request. Business owners, neighborhood groups and government officials are expected to attend.

The ads won't run until sometime after the conference, said Mr. Kraus, but he's already lining up donations of billboard space and soliciting help with printing costs. The extent of the campaign will depend on how successful he is.

The ad with the guy slumped over the bar was part of the University of Florida's three-year-old "Less is More" campaign, designed to improve behavior in Gainesville entertainment districts, said Virginia Dodd, associate professor in the College of Health and Human Performance.

She said other cities may use the ads, developed with a U.S. Department of Education grant, for free.

One ad placed in Gainesville restrooms features a beer bottle, its neck drooping in a way that would make a guy's blood run cold. Mr. Kraus said it's "probably the edgiest one of all" the ads.

"Drinking too much may disappoint you ... and your partner," the ad says. "Excess alcohol consumption can cause impotence."

Dr. Dodd said the university previously tried a "Sober is Sexy" ad campaign. It fell flat because, well, students didn't consider sobriety sexy. In fact, she said, some saw the word "sober" and read no farther.

So Dr. Dodd brought in focus groups, including representatives of fraternities and sororities, to see what messages would hit the mark.

She said she found that young adults wanted to indulge but feared turning into a laughingstock -- such as the woman who throws up or loses her shoes before the night's over, or a "sketchy drunk guy" whose boorish behavior turns women off. She also found that guys feared imbibing to the point that "body parts don't work."

The "Less is More" campaign speaks to those concerns.

One ad shows a provocatively dressed young lady being sick in a restroom stall.

"Don't be that girl," the ad says. "Consuming fewer drinks may reduce your risk of embarrassment."

Another ad features two guys -- one shirtless, the other with his shirt unbuttoned -- posing idiotically with raised beer bottles.

"Sketchy drunk guys ... Making girls feel uncomfortable since 1853," the ad says. "Warning: Avoid guys who drink too much."

Dr. Dodd cited various measures of the program's success, including surveys indicating that students reduced drinking and knew about the ads. In what she called further evidence that the campaign resonated with students, one of the sketchy drunk guy ads was stolen off the side of a bus.

Believing those ads had become stale, Dr. Dodd put them on the shelf about a year ago and rolled out a "When I Drink Too Much" theme that highlights other consequences, such as texting one's mother at an inopportune time.

Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said such campaigns don't necessarily conflict with more traditional health-agency messages about responsible drinking and safe sex.

"I kind of understand the rationale here," he said, noting the dissonance between young people going to bars "to connect socially with others" and then drinking so much that they're unattractive.

"Drunks have terrible posture," he said. "They slouch. They slur their speech."

And drunkenness, he said, leads to risky sexual behavior.

Responsible Hospitality Edmonton, the group that manages the city's entertainment scene, also has appealed to young men's primal instincts to promote good behavior.

In 2008, to address street fighting by drunken males, the group debuted its "Be a lover, not a fighter" campaign, suggesting that both young men and young women might prefer the former.

One ad featured twin images -- one of two guys fighting and another of a scantily clad couple -- with the message: "Beatdown or Rubdown." Another ad said, "Headlock or Liplock."

Mr. Kraus said he may use an ad Edmonton officials developed to tackle a problem with public urination in the city's Whyte Avenue party district.

In 2007, the city brought in temporary restrooms, then it handed out 7,000 business cards warning of a $500 fine for public urination and urging revelers to "Pee Free" at one of the new facilities.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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