STUDY PROCLAIMS POSITIVE EFFECTS FOR ANTI-DRUG ADS: REPORT COMES AS CONGRESS WRESTLES WITH FUNDING, ISSUE OF ADDING ALCOHOL

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An independent evaluation of the government's anti-drug advertising claims the paid-for effort is having an effect on visibility and may actually be producing attitudinal changes.

The study, required by Congress, concedes the national campaign hasn't been running long enough to be able to determine whether it has affected the usage of illegal drugs. But it said there are hopeful signs.

'MEETING ITS GOALS'

"The lessons learned through the evaluation . . . demonstrate that the campaign is meeting its goals," wrote Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in a letter to Congress.

The study, a draft of which was obtained by Advertising Age, was done by CSR Inc. and has been sent to Congress as legislators wrestle with some major questions about the anti-drug campaign's future. It has not been made public.

The U.S. government has never before tried the strategy of paying for public service ad messages, and that is being closely watched.

This week, the House Appropriations Committee will decide whether some of the funds now used for the anti-drug ads should go to supporting ads that focus on alcoholic beverage use.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other consumer groups have urged such a plan, but Gen. McCaffrey and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have warned that switching the focus or cutting spending for anti-drug messages could dilute the effects of the campaign.

FUNDING DIFFERENCES

The House and Senate soon have to balance their differing desires for the campaign. A Senate version of the appropriations bill would cut spending from the current $150 million annual level to less than $90 million, while a House version would continue funding at the current level.

Creative for the anti-drug ads comes from the partnership; media buying was via Bates USA and Zenith Media, both New York.

The study commissioned by the White House examined only the effect of TV advertising, surveying students in school and then interviewing parents to determine the spots' visibility and their effect on perceptions about drug usage. It covered the first five months of national advertising, from July through November 1998, compared with a baseline the study determined from when anti-drug ads ran as unpaid PSAs.

According to the study, visibility of advertising showed a major increase, with the percentage of teens saying they saw three of the ads "often" jumping from 5 to 14 percentage points; a fourth ad rose slightly less than 5 percentage points.

Parents reported seeing the ads with much more regularity, with the exception of one of the spots.

LESS LIKELY TO USE DRUGS

The study also said the youths and teens who had seen the ads reported they were less likely to use drugs. For example, 36% of teens who saw the "Frying Pan" spot reported they were less likely to use drugs, compared with 23% before the national campaign began.

The number of youths who said they believed such ads were "lying" about drugs also decreased as the frequency of the advertising increased, and both teens and youth reported learning a lot about drugs from seeing the ads.

The study also found the ads were prompting more youths to say they didn't expect to try alcoholic beverages in the future.

One problem: While kids said they get much of their information from parents and wanted more information, the survey found the ads weren't prompting any change in parents' willingness to talk to about drugs. As a result, the anti-drug office is planning more messages aimed at parents.

ADS 'AN IMPORTANT SOURCE'

"The findings clearly indicate that television and particularly anti-drug ads are an important source of information about the risks of drugs," the study said. "Awareness [showed] the tremendous potential of the campaign."

The White House drug office, which has plans to release the study formally at an event featuring President Clinton, declined to comment on the report.

Steve Dnistrian, a public affairs spokesman for the partnership, said the report shows "early signs of positive attitudes. . . . Everything is right on track. The question for the future is maintaining the media weight, the time and money

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