GOV'T TO TEST ANTI-DRUG ADS; BIG BOOSTS LOOM

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The kickoff of the U.S. government's $178 million anti-drug ad campaign, which represents more than a 25% increase in total federal spending on paid advertising over 1996, is being accelerated and could be in lead markets before yearend.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy this week will unveil a detailed proposal it hopes will allow the office to speed a media plan through required congressional approval. If successful, a $20 million four-month market test will be up by January.

This comes as the U.S. moves toward what could be the biggest increases in governmental advertising in history.

$100 MIL CENSUS CAMPAIGN

A $100 million, three-year effort from the Bureau of the Census for the 2000 national head count -- also to start off with a test in several cities -- is slated to run in 1998 through 2000. And on the horizon is an anti-smoking ad blitz that could amount to $500 million a year if Congress follows through on the agreement reached between state attorneys general and tobacco companies.

These budgeted and potential increases follow a spending boost last year that saw the U.S. government rise to No. 20 on Advertising Age's annual 100 Leading National Advertisers ranking, from No. 39, with a 64% jump in expenditures to nearly $400 million.

A big chunk of that increase was fueled by a reported $87 million boost in U.S. Postal Service spending for a successful Priority Mail campaign; a Federal Emergency Management Agency decision to spend $15 million a year on ads to better promote flood insurance; and a one-year, $15 million boost in U.S. Army spending to advertise some of the improvements made in college loan repayment and recruitment bonuses.

The Army "bonus" won't be repeated, and some Department of Defense ad budgets will be cut next year. Further, the Postal Service cut spending on Priority Mail by $71 million through July. Yet even with these cutbacks, the federal ad expenditure will be far higher in 1998.

MIXED REVIEWS

That may please the media, but it's also drawing mixed reviews in the ad industry.

Hal Shoup, exec VP of the Association of American Advertising Agencies, expressed some concerns that the new willingness of the U.S. government to pay for ads could make it tougher to get ad agencies and the media to support free public service campaigns.

"When you pay for advertising, you get time slots that are most effective. But the downside is the impact on worthy causes that are not governmental in nature," he said. "Our concern is [about] what impact this will have on the media and agencies' willingness to take on assignments that are purely pro bono."

And amid the growth, there are groups that say they are not getting to participate in it.

MISSING OUT?

Two groups of minority publishers -- the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Association of Hispanic Publications -- said they have seen no increase in ads in their publications, and they've charged that ad agencies and media buyers are cutting them out of the federal ad largesse.

The groups, however, pulled back on their threat to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (AA, Nov. 10), citing costs and the fact they've written to President Clinton and want to wait for his reply.

Some government agencies and their ad shops disputed the groups' characterization, suggesting minority newspapers are more likely victims of decisions to make national ad buys and not use newspapers at all. In the Defense Department and Postal Service, for instance, the ad agencies make national buys and local commanders or districts make decisions on local newspaper ads.

Still, one top African-American agency executive said the charge has merit.

"If black media got their fair share, then we'd all be rich," said Caroline Jones, whose New York agency bearing her name handles African-American advertising for the Postal Service. "Obviously, there is a problem, because [black media and agencies are] struggling."

Ms. Jones said that since studies show blacks put greater faith in local than national media, decisions not to use local media as part of a campaign aimed at them make little sense.

In the coming census drive, Y&R Advertising, New York, will head a group of agencies intended to offer advertising tailored to the ethnic needs of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic and Native Americans.

REACHING KIDS ABOUT DRUGS

In the anti-drug ad test, if approved, ads will try to convince all 9-to-17-year-olds to halt trial usage of entry-level drugs like marijuana, inhalants and, in some areas, speed or methamphetamine. Some of the ads also will target youths' parents.

Creative from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America will be used for the test.

The 12 test markets are to be revealed to Congress this week. Another 12 cities not getting the ads will be monitored for comparison purposes.

Media in the test sites and corporate co-sponsors will be asked to match the paid media with donated time and space.

HOPES FOR MORE

The anti-drug ad campaign is a five-year program, and drug policy office Director Barry McCaffrey hopes the $178 million in paid media authorized will be matched by time and space donated by the media or funded by co-sponsoring corporations, for a grand total of $356 million in anti-drug advertising.

To spend the bulk of the planned paid media budget, the drug policy agency has to complete a government contracting process that includes finishing up an evaluation plan for the program, winning approval from some key congressional committees and hiring a media buying agency, with that last step not expected to be completed until May or June.

Since Congress won't be back in session until the end of January, the office won agreement from the committees to review the information informally, permitting ads to air before then.

Temporarily, media schedules are expected to be bought by another government agency's media buyer, as yet unselected.

ANTI-SMOKING AD DEBATE

As for anti-smoking advertising, Congress early next year will debate the agreement and legislation recently introduced. If it acts on tobacco, which is no certainty, advertising could begin before yearend 1998.

It's uncertain how much of the spending will be on national advertising by the

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