5 pagesOrganize with sub headings (Question 1, Question 2, etc.).Case attachedDiscussion Questions SamplesEvaluate the creative strategy used by the Partnership for a Drug Free America in its advertising campaign, particularly with respect to the use of strong fear appeals.Discuss the market segmentation strategies used by the PDFA and ONDCP in the anti-drug campaigns.Which of these segmentation strategies would be most likely to be effective?Much of the controversy surrounding the anti-drug advertising campaigns has involved the determination of the effectiveness of the ads.Evaluate the various approaches used to determine the effectiveness of the anti-drug ads.What types of measures should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign?
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Using Advertising to Fight the War on Drugs: The Power of Social
Marketing or a Waste of Money?
This case was written by Professors Michael A. Belch and George E. Belch. It is intended to be used as
the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a
The case was compiled from published sources.
In 2003, the U.S. Government will spend over $19.2 billion, about $609 per second, on the War on Drugs.
State and local governments will spend at least another $20 billion. People arrested for drug law
violations in 2003 are expected to exceed the 1.5 million arrests of the year 2000, with someone arrested
every 20 seconds. – www.drugsense.org
Every day, in almost every city and town across America, children are deciding whether to use drugs.
Drug abuse is a process that more often than not begins in childhood. The younger the person is when he
or she begins using drugs, the more likely that other serious problems, including addiction, will follow.
One approach to preventing children from trying and using drugs is by helping them understand the
dangers of using them and how to resist pressure from peers. For nearly two decades, the advertising
industry has been tackling the problem of illicit drug use through the Partnership for a Drug Free America
(PDFA), which is a private, nonprofit coalition of professionals from the communications industry whose
collective mission is to reduce demand for drugs in America. The U.S. government became involved in
the use of advertising to fight the problem of adolescent drug use when the U.S. Congress approved The
Media Campaign Act of 1998 which directed the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to
conduct a national media campaign for the purpose of reducing and preventing drug abuse among young
people in the United States.
The use of media advertising to fight the “War on Drugs” is as controversial as it is well intended.
Supporters of the cause cite various studies suggesting that media advertising has been successful in
curbing drug use. However, critics point to other studies which conclude that anti-drug advertising has
had little or no impact on drug use among young people. Moreover, the PDFA and ONDCP have also
been in disagreement over the type of advertising that should be used to discourage drug use as well the
extent to which other forms of integrated marketing communications should be used in the campaign.
The Partnership has argued that what began as a relatively simple idea of using advertising to repeatedly
deliver messages regarding the dangers of drug use has become a very complex and politicized process.
The Partnership for a Drug Free America –The Early Years
In the mid 1980’s two advertising executives, Dick O’Reilly and Phil Joanou, originated the concept of
using a cause campaign designed to enlist advertisers and media in a partnership to help kids and teens
reject substance abuse by influencing attitudes through persuasive information. Funded by a grant from
the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the two men set out to gather advice and to recruit
others to the cause. Their success resulted in the formation in 1986 of what would become the largest
public-service advertising campaign in history. The coalition of advertising and media people working
together to combat drug use was called “The Partnership for a Drug Free America,” and was officially
launched on March 5, 1987. Unfortunately, Mr. O’Reilly never got to see the immediate success the
coalition would have, as he was killed in a rafting accident while recruiting new partners.
After O’Reilly’s death, James Burke, the retired Chairman of Johnson & Johnson, picked up
where O’Reilly left off. Burke was quite well known in the advertising and business community for his
handling of the Tylenol product tampering crisis which is often cited as one of the most successful
examples of the handling of a crisis management situation. When Burke was elected chairman of the
Partnership in 1989, there had already been more than 30 TV commercials, 64 print ads and numerous
radio spots produced by some of the country’s leading advertising agencies. The anti-drug messages were
being aired on the major broadcast and cable television networks, radio stations and in various magazines
through time and space donated by the media.
While all those involved with the PDFA in the early years had good intentions, as might be
expected, there were a number of problems. Many considered the early spots as “melodramatic” relying
too much on scare tactics and stereotypes such as the school bus driver who snorts cocaine; AfricanAmerican boys selling crack in the school yard; and the “one puff and you are hooked” messages.
Academics as well as others studying the effects of drug abuse programs questioned these approaches,
noting that scare tactics often have not been found to be an effective way to change attitudes and
behavior. Others criticized the program for exaggeration and distortion of the facts, arguing that this
detracted from the credibility of the program. Misrepresentation of facts, such as a 1987 ad claiming to
show the brain waves of a 14 year old smoking pot when it was really the brain of a person in a coma,
resulted in further skepticism. As a result of these criticisms, the PDFA overhauled its review process and
began more closely scrutinizing the ads and commercials before releasing them. In spite of early
problems, the PDFA was successful in gaining billions of dollars of pro bono time and effort from
advertising agencies, as well as media time and space.
While few questioned the intentions of those involved in the PDFA, throughout the ‘90s, there
were still those who were skeptical about the effectiveness of their efforts. Critics argued that there was
no evidence to support the claim that the anti-drug ads could alter behavior. To maintain their reputation,
and reduce criticism, the PDFA consistently found itself in a position whereby it was necessary to
demonstrate that the ads were having an impact on drug abuse. Adding to the problem was the fact that
government surveys taken during this time period showed increases in the use of cocaine and heroin by
urban youth and in the use of LSD by college students nationwide.
In response to the critics, Burke and the PDFA argued that while there might not be proof of
actual behavior change, there was a strong correlation between teens’ exposure to the anti-drug messages
and their disapproval of drug use. Burke based much of the defense of the program on research provided
annually by the Gordon S. Black Corporation, a Michigan based marketing research firm that conducted
the annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Surveys (PATS). In addition, Dr. Lloyd Johnston, a research
scientist at the University of Michigan, who used mall intercepts of high school students to collect annual
survey data for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (N.I.D.A.), concluded that most teens remembered
the anti-drug ads and reported being influenced by them. Johnston supported the program noting that “its
clear things have moved in the right direction.” An editorial also appeared in Advertising Age, the leading
trade publication in the advertising industry, in September 1996 praising the effectiveness of the
Partnership’s ads and calling for more media support of its efforts. However, media support and pro bono
time and space declined every year from 1991 to 1998 and those who felt that the program was effective
feared that it was losing its impact because fewer young people were seeing fewer anti-drug messages.
The White House Gets Involved In the War on Drugs
The U.S. government became involved in the use of advertising to fight the war on drugs with the passage
of The Media Campaign Act of 1998 which included the allocation of $195 million per year over the next
five years to fund the purchase of media time and space to deliver anti-drug use messages. The decision
of the government to become involved with the anti-drug advertising effort was based on the premise that
the PDFA program was effective but needed more support since donations of free media time and space
were declining. This program was to be administered through the White House’s Office of National Drug
Control Policy (ONDCP). The responsibility for creating the ads would be assigned to the PDFA,
although they would receive no monies directly from the government. Nevertheless, the money from the
government would make it possible to attain more media time and space than was being offered through
public service announcements (PSAs) and other pro bono donations. However, critics noted that the
PDFA would be facing a loss of autonomy and increased involvement from the government bureaucracy
in exchange as a tradeoff for the additional monies to run the anti-drug messages.
The ONDCP made several changes upon becoming involved with the anti-drug advertising
efforts. The office hired the Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide advertising agency to coordinate the campaign
and handle the media planning and buying. Another change instituted by the ONDCP was a greater focus
on market segmentation. Recognizing that all drugs (and their consequences) are not the same, the
ONDCP suggested that ads should be developed with the understanding that adolescents have different
beliefs and attitudes toward various drugs, their consequences, the perceived risk associated with them,
and social disapproval of their use. New ads were developed taking into consideration the type of drug
and its consequences and the specific target audience. Different messages were designed to appeal to
specific age groups such as young people, teens, and parents as well as different geographic, socio-
economic, and ethnic audiences. The ONDCP also made it clear that it would demand more
accountability and expect to see evidence showing that the money being spent on the campaign was
having an impact on reducing drug use. U.S. drug czar Barry M. McCaffrey, a retired four-star general,
made it clear that he wanted hard numbers to provide the campaign was working stating: “there are no
points for style. We’ve got to achieve an outcome. We have to change the way Americans act.”
Concern with ONDCP Involvement
Not all of the changes associated with government’s involvement in the anti-drug media campaign were
perceived as positive. A number of leading business and advertising industry publications criticized the
ONDCP’s involvement with the anti-drug advertising efforts. They argued that the involvement of the
ONDCP would change the role and orientation of the cause and result in a much more partisan
perspective. Many questioned whether the ONDCP would deal squarely with the agencies and media
companies involved in the campaign, or if they would attempt to politicize the efforts. They also brought
into question the assumptions and goals of the new campaign such as zero tolerance of any illicit
substance being the only acceptable paradigm. Many critics were also opposed to the fact that it would be
the American public who would be footing the bill for the campaign through their tax dollars.
Determining the Effectiveness of the Campaign
One of the major challenges facing the ONDCP and PDFA was proving that the money being spent on
the anti-drug messages was having an impact and achieving the goal of reducing drug use among young
people. Both groups pointed to several research studies that they contended showed that the anti-drug
advertising was working including the Gordon S. Black and Lloyd Johnston tracking studies. However,
three studies were most often cited to support the large government involvement including one conducted
at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a second from the Stern School of Business at
NYU and the third from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. However, these
studies were severely criticized by Daniel Hill in an April 1998 article in Brandweek, a leading
advertising and marketing trade publication. In the article, Hill argued that the support for funding more
anti-drug advertising was based on faulty research. He noted that the lead author of the Johns Hopkins
study reported that she now had grave doubts about the research techniques used to support the
conclusions that the anti-drug messages were effective. The NYU study was withdrawn from
consideration for publication seeking further econometric support, and studies conducted by Lloyd
Johnston were never submitted for publication and peer review. Hill also cited other critics who
contended that previous research used in the campaign was often inadequate and resulted in the
development of ads that preach to the choir or insult the intelligence of the target audience.
Despite these criticisms, the ONDCP remained committed to the $195 million in funding for
advertising for anti-drug messages over the next four years, with approximately 50 percent of the effort to
be targeted to adults. The funding was based on the media matching the time and space that was
purchased by the government on a dollar for dollar basis, which meant that approximately $2 billion
would be spent on the anti-drug advertising campaign from 1998-2003.
The New PDFA/ONDCP Campaign
In 1998 the Partnership and ONDCP began work on a new campaign that was designed to educate
America’s youth as well as their parents about the dangers of drug use and provide them with resistance
techniques that could be used when confronted with the choice of using drugs. The strategy for the new
campaign evolved around five themes:
1. Instill the belief that drug use is not as common as kids think
2. Enhance negative social consequences of using drugs
3. Enhance the positive aspects of not using drugs
4. Enhance the variety of personal and social skills needed by youth
5. The positive use of time
The first year of the campaign consisted of three phases. The first phase involved a 12 city test of $20
million in paid anti-drug ads that were evaluated through focus groups, telephone surveys, and
community feedback. The second phase included $65 million in paid media advertising beginning in the
summer of 1998, while the third phase consisted of $93 million in paid integrated media, including high
impact programs such as sports and entertainment events, “non traditional media” such as movie and
video trailers, brochures, strategic ad placements, and Internet web sites. While there was no rough
testing of print ads or commercials, some focus group pre-testing of finished ads was conducted to
prevent against some of the problems that occurred in the early days of the PDFA.
The new strategy was seen by many as a very positive step. For example, Richard Earle, author of
the book The Art of Cause Marketing: How to Use Advertising to Change Personal Behavior and Public
Policy, welcomed the new strategy, praising the integrated marketing effort, the targeting, and the
consistent theme that carried across all media. Earle particularly liked the use of TV and print advertising
to drive viewers to the ONDCP and PDFA websites and the use of informational brochures. He predicted
that the campaign would be very successful.
The ONDCP Decides To Link Drug Use With Terrorism
In early 2002 John P. Walters was appointed as the new head of the ONDCP. However, even before
taking office Walters had expressed concern over the type of ads that were being used to fight the war on
drugs. In the fall of 2001, following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in
New York City, the PDFA conducted surveys with parents and kids and found that they believed there
was a connection between drugs and terrorism. The Partnership recruited the Grey, New York agency to
produce a set of PSAs to educate parents and kids about the link using footage of President Bush, and
then planned to follow with more hard-hitting spots. However, at the same time, the ONDCP had
directed the Ogilvy & Mather agency to begin working on ads that would use an even harder approach.
In December of 2001 the PDFA presented some of its early concepts for ads focusing on the link between
drugs and terrorism to Walters and the ONDCP staff. However, the ONDCP decided that they wanted
“edgier” creative that would break through all of the other patriotic ads being run following the tragedy of
September 11th. The Partnership said it never heard back from the ONDCP on its plans for the terrorismrelated ads, while the drug office said the PDFA withdrew from the process. Meanwhile, Ogilvy was
given the green light to proceed with the development of a campaign linking drug use with the support of
terrorism that would be done outside of the normal channels involving the PDFA.
The first ads in the campaign ran during the 2002 Super Bowl, and took advantage of the public’s
outrage over the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The commercials featured footage of assault
weapons, duct tape, and explosives and implied that the weapons used by terrorists were funded by drug
sales in the U.S. Some groups were critical of the ads and the government’s effort to draw a connection
between drug money and terrorism, arguing that it was unfair to blame nonviolent drug users for the
actions of terrorists. However, the director of the campaign for the ONDCP described the reaction to the
first set of ads as phenomenal, noting that it generated debate on the drug issue. A survey sponsored by
the National Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education found that 74 percent of students surveyed
indicated the terrorism ads made them less likely to use drugs.
Eight months after the first ads ran, the ONDCP followed with another round of ads that were
designed to refute the notion that drug use is a victimless crime and link drug use to crime and terrorism.
The drug office noted that viewers of the initial ads had a difficult time believing that the drug-terrorism
link applied to marijuana purchases. Thus, the second set of ads more closely showed the connection
between the use of pot and terrorism. One of the commercials began with a pretty young woman buying a
dime bag of marijuana and ended with a child being shot in drug-warfare crossfire. Another linked a
marijuana user to various parties in the supply chain and ended with a connection to a drug cartel.
Not everyone was in favor of the ads linking drug use with terrorism including the PDFA whose
vice chairman-executive creative director, Allen Rosenshine, who stated that they violated a basic
premise of consumer advertising by telling people “what they are doing is stupid and bad.” Some critics
of the drug/terrorism ads suggested that they created a false paradigm that terrorism is caused by drugs
and not the illegality of drugs. Groups such as the National Organization for Marijuana Legalization
noted that the ads argued more for decriminalization of certain drugs than abstinence. However, the
ONDCP felt that the point of the ads was summarized quite well by the onscreen message at the end of
each spot: “Drug money supports terrible things. If you buy drugs you might too.”
Problems Develop Between the PFDA and the ONDCP
The disagreement over the drugs and terrorism ads was indicative of the tension that was developing
between the ONDCP and the PDFA over the creative direction of the anti-drug campaign as well as a
number of other issues. The Partnership was becoming frustrated with the long and drawn out creative
approval process mandated by the ONDCP, as the government agency had developed a behavioral-change
expert panel consisting of a group of 10 psychologists, soci …
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