Drug office vows to fix ad program

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At a Capitol Hill hearing last week, John P. Walters, director of the White House drug office, pledged to right the $152 million anti-drug ad program within a year or kill it.

The pledge follows a skirmish between the Partnership for a Drug- Free America and the Office of National Drug Control Policy over the direction of the program. The fight was kicked off after Mr. Walters unveiled a study that found the ads were not sufficiently reaching kids.

The hearings also elicited a denunciation of a recent TV effort linking the illegal drug trade to terrorists by Allen Rosenshine, chairman-CEO of Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide and vice chair-executive creative director of the Partnership. Meanwhile, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate appropriations panel, urged Mr. Walters to fire WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, the lead agency on the business, because of accounting problems.

"If someone overbilled me ... I wouldn't do business with them," said Sen. Dorgan, in some of the strongest Ogilvy criticism from the Senate. "If someone overbilled me, they would only have a chance to do it once."

Ogilvy's early billing problems drew strong criticism from some congressmen and eventually resulted in the agency agreeing to a $1.8 million settlement of civil charges. It also led the drug office to rebid the contract; a decision is imminent. Ogilvy hopes to retain the contract. The agency has blamed its initial problems on its failure to implement a government accounting system, which it has since put in place.

The Partnership does most of the creative on the account, with Ogilvy responsible for research, strategy and media buying.

At the Senate hearings and a similar one held in the House, Mr. Walters argued one problem was the drug office had insufficient involvement in Partnership creative when it was delivered late, and it often did not get proper testing before airing. Other factors he listed included a target age for the drug office's messages pushed too low; not enough marijuana messages delivered; and too many different themes used.

not enough power

"I don't think we have powerful-enough material," Mr. Walters said, adding in his written testimony that "protracted production delays ... produced a chain reaction of subpar advertising substitutions that seriously damaged" the effort's effectiveness.

Pressed by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., about when the program should be abandoned for not working, Mr. Walters asked for another year. One option Mr. Walters explored, paying for creative, seems unlikely to go forward as Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., Judiciary panel chairman, said in a letter to Sen. Dorgan he did not believe that was the answer.

Partnership officials, meanwhile, argued the report unfairly ignored the campaign's first years. They blamed problems on the move away from its proven creative approach to a complicated strategy that was too broad, spent too much on non-media activities and employed a lengthy development process. "The campaign lost its way," said Steve Pasierb, Partnership president-CEO. "We would urge it be refunded if, and only if, it returns to its original concept."

Mr. Rosenshine told the House panel the drug office's move to "integrated social marketing" had "fractionalized the budget" and marketers have found similar efforts less effective than advertising. The American Association of Advertising Agencies has offered to set up panels to resolve the problems of getting creative together, he noted.

`stupid and bad'

"In his criticism of the terrorist spot from Ogilvy, Mr. Rosenshine said he believes it violates one of the basic premises of consumer advertising in telling people that what they are doing is stupid and bad." He later added no evidence exists the ads worked and while they may have been noticed, "notoriety alone is not effectiveness."

Drug-office officials say the terrorist ads were aimed at adults, not kids, and have produced more than 1 million hits on a drug-office Web page. Ogilvy declined to comment.

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