Pubdate: Thu, 15 May 2002
Source: ABC News (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 ABC News
Bookmark: (ONDCP Media Campaign)


Drug Czar Says Anti-Drug Ads Fell Flat

Over the past five years, the government has spent $929 million in taxpayer
money on advertising that was aimed at discouraging kids from using drugs.
But the man in charge of the war on drugs, John Walters, says that money may
have simply gone up in smoke. 

A report commissioned by Walter's office, the White House Office of National
Drug Control Policy, scrutinized the impact of anti-drug TV advertisements
released between September 1999 and December 2001. It concluded that "there
is no evidence yet consistent with a desirable effect on youth," and no
significant decline in marijuana use during that time. In other words, the
ads fell flat. 

Walters, who was appointed drug czar by President Bush earlier this year,
said the report shows that the star-power fueled ads didn't work. 

"It hasn't had an effect on young people's abuse," Walters said on ABCNEWS'
Good Morning America. "The goal is to drive abuse down," he said. 

The report also claims that some of the 12- and 13-year-old kids who were
surveyed for the study said they were "more" inclined to smoke marijuana
after watching some of the ads that aired between 1999 and 2001. 

Some researchers question that conclusion, however, and an ONDCP spokesman
says they plan to do a follow-up report and ask young TV viewers about the
same commercials in another six months. 

The ads that Walters criticized include more than 212 TV commercials
produced both in English and Spanish, which featured performers such as the
Dixie Chicks and Mary J. Blige, along with actors posing as drug users. The
spots aired during shows popular with teens, such as MTV programs and

Gloves Off for Edgier Ad Campaign 

Walters is asking Congress for funding to support new, edgier and more
confrontational commercials. A new ad campaign should be more direct and
target older teens, he said. 

Such ads might be more like the post-Sept. 11 ads that link terrorism to
drug use. Those commercials show footage of weapons and explosives, and
suggest that the weapons were funded by drug sales in the U.S. 

"It's also going to provide more direct messages about the real threats,"
Walters said. "We are going to turn and look more directly at marijuana." 

Walters, who was critical of many of the anti-drug ads before he was
appointed, said new ads will be tested for their impact before they air. 

Bob Weiner, former spokesman and public affairs director for the White House
Drug Policy Office between May 1995 and August 2001, called Walters'
assertion that the ads had flopped "absurd." Drug use actually dropped 34
percent during the last three years of the Clinton administration, Weiner

"We have the data showing the tests that proved that the old ads worked --
teens were 13 percent less likely to use drugs after seeing 'Frying Pan' for
example," Weiner told U.S. Newswire. "If the drug office isn't still testing
their new ads, look within thyself? Or go back to the ones we did which

The agency that created the original "frying pan" commercial -- "This is the
sound of your brain fried on drugs" -- which featured the famous egg in a
frying pan scene 14 years ago, said that messages in today's ads have become

"The campaign has become much more highly nuanced, the messages have
softened into a more positive alternatives type of message, when the
research clearly shows that perception or risk, social disapproval -- things
like that really work," said Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for
a Drug-Free America. "Now you're seeing the results of that. The messages
aren't getting through the way they did." 

A Joke? 

Some young people have said they agree with advertising experts who say the
ads featuring musicians were a little too subtle with their message. 

"They didn't really seem like they had a moral to them," Nick, a high school
student in Coral Gables, Fla., told ABCNEWS. "They seem like a joke." 

Bob Garfield, of Advertising Age magazine, said ads are good at getting
people to act, but they often flounder when it comes to getting people not
to act. In the case of anti-drug ads, the mission is to overcome other
messages that drive people to smoke and use drugs. 

"It is one thing to think about an issue in the abstract and then to come
face to face with the moment of impulse," Garfield said. "And I am telling
you categorically: Advertising is not equipped to battle moments of

Walters said the designers of the ad campaign had good intentions, but he
said it's time to create edgier ads that will get results. New ads will be
reviewed for their effectiveness every six months, said Walters. If the
government can't make the ads work, it will consider putting the ad dollars
in other areas of need in the anti-drug effort, said Walters.
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