Roland Park grad promotes responsible spring break fun

Savannah Bass, 21, who grew up in Ruxton and graduated from Roland Park Country School in 2008, is working to curb binge drinking on college campuses and along the beach during spring break.

As one of 13 University of Alabama students in charge of LessThanUThink, she is using a humorous approach to convey the message that excessive drinking can have unintended, even embarrassing consequences.

"We found through research that students don't respond to messages that are negative," she said. LessThanUThink's message, she said, is about having a good time, being with friends, and then remembering it in the morning. For students who are old enough to drink legally, "We don't promote abstinence, just responsible drinking," said Bass, who leads social media and special events efforts for the group targeting Alabama campuses and beaches.

One LessThanUThink poster depicts a woman getting a large tattoo on her back, with palm trees and the words "Spring Break 2012." Above the image are the words: "You think U won't get that souvenir." Below it: "And you wouldn't. Three drinks ago. It takes"

Another poster warns: "You think U are over your ex," and shows a woman with bleary eyes and mascara running down her cheeks, drink on the table in front of her and cellphone pressed to her ear. Another says: "You think U can dance," and shows a young man on the dance floor, beer in one hand, while others look on in dismay.

LessThanUThink was created in 2010 by advertising and public relations students at the University of Alabama, who are also members of the student-run public relations firm, the Capstone Agency. They work with the Student Department of Health Promotion and Wellness. In addition to its posters and print ads, the group creates T-shirts, stickers and other merchandise, and brings its message to tailgating parties and other venues.

"It's real cool when you're on campus and you see all these kids wearing T-shirts with your campaign," said Bass.

The group, which was recognized by the Public Relations Society of America in 2011 with the PRSA Silver Anvil Award of Excellence, receives funding from the Century Council, a group funded by distillers that fights drunk driving and underage drinking, and the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. Each semester, the agency is run by a new team of students; Bass and the others started in January.

In previous years, the message was confined to the University of Alabama campus. But the campaign has been so well-received by students that since January, with additional funding, it has expanded to other Alabama campuses, including Auburn, Troy, Alabama State, South Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In March, Bass and others took the campaign off campus for the first time, to the college students who were sunning and partying in the city of Gulf Shores, along Alabama's coast. "This is a national issue," said Bass.

"She was in charge of bringing it to Gulf Shores," said Casey O'Rear, 22, who is also a University of Alabama senior and a LessThanUThink participant. O'Rear said the group went to Gulf Shores in early March, and gave away LessThanUThink sunglasses, Frisbees and drink cozies; set up events including beach volleyball games and sand castle contests; developed followings on Facebook and Twitter and launched an online photo contest for the person with the most LessThanUThink merchandise.

Bass' work included securing permits to distribute the items and informational materials in local bars. "We want to reach students at the point of consumption," said Bass, who will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in public relations and a minor in American studies.

She's not entirely sure what her first post-college job will be, but she said the LessThanUThink campaign has "given me a good insight into what it would be like to work for an agency."

"She is definitely the comedic relief," O'Rear said of Bass. "She has lots of crazy stories about going to school in Maryland."