Media Detective

An Evidence-Based Practice


Media Detective is a media literacy program pursuing three goals. First, the program aims to encourage healthy beliefs and attitudes about abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. Second, it strives to enhance students’ thinking ability to critically deconstruct media messages. Finally, Media Detectives seeks to prevent or delay underage alcohol and tobacco use. Alcoholism and smoking addiction among elementary-aged children remains an often over-looked serious public health problem. Teenagers who drink alcohol at age 14 or younger are four to five times more likely to develop alcohol abuse problems than teenagers who refrain from drinking before the age of 14. Media Detective targets third to fifth grade students, both male and female, in suburban and rural and/or frontier communities. Media Detective also targets both students with prior alcohol and tobacco use and those without prior use.

Media Detective consists of age-appropriate classroom-based lessons that teach participants to deconstruct and critically think about advertisements presented to them. The essential components are ten forty-five minute media literacy lessons, which train students to recognize messages behind flashy advertisements and slogans. These lessons develop students’ ability to understand the true motives and possible dangers of alcohol and tobacco advertisements. Teachers from the participating schools facilitate the program after receiving online training or in-person workshops from the program developers.

The program uses a detective theme with Snoop and Scoop, a dog and cat duo, to captivate students’ interest. Students are taught to look for five “clues” within advertisements: (1) the product being sold, (2) the target audience the advertisers are trying to attract, (3) the ad hook used to attract attention, (4) the hidden message, or what the ad suggests is the outcome of product use, (5) the missing information about health consequences from using the product. Students first apply these skills to a variety of advertisements and later to alcohol and tobacco advertisements. The curriculum concludes with an individual media advocacy activity, which includes students creating a counter-ad.

Goal / Mission

To prevent or delay the onset of underage alcohol and tobacco use by encouraging healthy beliefs and attitudes about abstaining from substance use and by enhancing critical thinking skills to transform students into active media consumers.

Results / Accomplishments

Media Detective’s effectiveness was evaluated through a randomized controlled trial. From twelve participating elementary schools in five North Carolina school districts, 49 classes were randomly assigned to a condition: 22 to the intervention group and 27 to the control group, totaling 1021 students. Loss of participants due to lack of parent permission, participant assent, or non-completion of the posttest led to 344 students in the intervention group and 335 students in the control group completing the study.

The study measured five outcomes: media deconstruction skills, understanding of the persuasive intent of advertisements, interest in alcohol-branded merchandise, intention to use alcohol and tobacco, and self-efficacy to refuse alcohol and tobacco. Students in the intervention group were found to display greater media deconstruction skills (6.31 vs. 4.59; p < 0.0001), have a stronger understanding of persuasive intent (3.93 vs. 3.58; p < 0.05), and have greater self-efficacy (4.79 vs. 4.69; p < 0.05) compared to students in the control group. This finding for greater self-efficacy was also found within the group of students who previously used alcohol and tobacco such that students in the intervention group had higher levels of self-efficacy to refuse than students in the control group (4.73 vs. 4.50; p < 0.05). Students with previous use also showed significantly less intention for future alcohol and tobacco use in the intervention compared to the control group (0.30 vs. 0.41; p < 0.05). Finally, only boys in the intervention group showed significantly less interest in alcohol-branded tobacco compared boys in the control group (1.56 vs. 1.76; p < 0.05).

About this Promising Practice

Primary Contact
Innovation Research and Training (iRT)
1415 W. NC Highway 54
Building 300
Suite 121
Durham, NC 27707
(919) 493-7700
Health / Children's Health
Health / Substance Abuse
Innovation Research and Training, Inc., Durham, NC
National Institute of Drug Abuse
Date of publication
Date of implementation
North Carolina
For more details
Target Audience
Submitted By
Marielle De Pasion, Bianca Nepales, Glenda Tam - UC Berkeley School of Public Health