NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Anti-Drug Ads Failed to Reduce Drug Use

May 14, 2002

The new U.S. drug czar, John P. Walters says survey data show the government's anti-drug advertising of recent years failed and perhaps even led some youngsters -- particularly girls aged 12 to 13 -- to experiment with marijuana.

  • The National Youth Anti-Drug Media campaign includes more than 212 TV commercials featuring performers popular with young people -- and the spots were developed by some of the best known agencies on Madison Avenue on a voluntary basis.
  • While corporations routinely test their ads for effectiveness prior to airing, the agency says it hasn't been able to test some 65 percent of the ads it airs because they often show up at the last minute after the agency has already committed to purchasing air time.
  • Walters says his agency intends to be more rigorous in its testing in the future -- and speculates that if an ad "answers a question that a child doesn't have, there's a chance you'll excite his or her curiosity."
  • The five-year-old, $929 million program is unusual among public-health advertising in that it is funded by taxpayers, rather than non-profit groups or through free public-service spots on television.

Despite the past five years of failures and perverse outcomes, Walters wants another $180 million next fiscal year to experiment further with the program.

Source: Vanessa O'Connell, "Drug Czar Says Ad Campaign Flopped," Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2002.


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