White House anti-drug unit garners fortune in free ads

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The White House Office of National Drug Policy, with its $150 million national ad campaign breaking July 9, has lined up a bonanza of free airings of other public service messages.

The Advertising Council and the American Advertising Federation will help choose the messages that will fill what could be more than $100 million in additional time and space.

RANGE OF TOPICS

Those messages, given by media that get the paid anti-drug ads, could include warnings against tobacco and alcoholic-beverage usage by teens and range all the way to good parenting practices.

Still recovering from former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt's public shellacking over its alleged decreased commitment to PSAs, broadcast media are jumping to take the drug agency's offer of trading its large ad budget for an equal amount of free time, including not only spots but anti-drug programming and other activities.

The National Association of Broadcasters, however, warned station owners that accepting federal money could subject them to additional equal employment restrictions.

President Clinton will attend an Atlanta event on that day to mark the official start of the campaign, and at that time the deals with Walt Disney Co. and a number of other media organizations are expected to be announced.

WEB OPPORTUNITIES

In addition to the bonus time and space, media companies are offering Web banners, chat rooms and TV shows to fulfill the requirement.

The drug office has been running ads in 12 cities for months now. The national effort kicks off with newspaper ads and, after 9 p.m. (ET), a roadblock buy on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox that is expected to feature the recent revision of the famous "frying pan" spot. This one has been produced for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America by Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners, New York.

The role of the Ad Council and AAF is still evolving. The Ad Council, which traditionally selected agencies to produce creative for PSAs and then helped get the media to run them, will evaluate creative together with a task force from the drug office, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

It was unclear last week whether the Ad Council will simply put together ads to meet the drug office's aims, or if it also will help determine or suggest what the media use and when.

"The decision has not been made as yet," said Donna Feiner, Ad Council senior VP.

NO FAVORITISM

She did say the Ad Council will evaluate campaigns independently of who produced them and campaigns produced for the Ad Council will get no favoritism.

Also unclear is how the task force will handle what could be major controversies--competing campaigns on similar subjects. Several states, for instance, are running anti-tobacco campaigns aimed at teens and often have widely different messages.

The first list of public service ads to be used included no mention of weighting the spots or of tobacco as a subject.

The AAF will take on the same role as the Ad Council for local media efforts, with its member clubs evaluating PSAs offered as matches for spot TV and newspaper buys.

"We are setting up a review group, which will also draw in the National Association of State Alcohol & Drug Abuse Directors, that will work with local [station] affiliates and provide some technical help about local needs," said AAF President Wally Snyder.

JUDGING ON LOCAL NEEDS

Mr. Snyder said he expects local AAF task forces to be formed this fall, with PSAs judged both on the drug office's priorities and local needs. Mr. Snyder said AAF envisions approving certain ads to run in the bonus time, but he does not expect to choose which ones will actually run.

BATES, ZENITH INVOLVEMENT

As reported, Bates USA and Zenith Media, both New York, are buying initial advertising for the White House drug office, while a review for a permanent buyer is under way.

Starting July 9, the drug office expects to run a regular schedule of advertising that aims to have 90% of the target audience of teen-agers and their parents see four spots per week.

Eventually, the plan is to combine regular advertising with ads during major events on which local anti-drug groups can capitalize.

TAPPING WHITE HOUSE CLOUT

For a number of public service organizations that have had trouble getting their PSAs used, the drug office's clout will mean a major change for them. Last week, the Ad Council task force approved 15 campaigns as the first beneficiaries.

Jeffrey Hon, public information director for the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, said his group is pleased to be included.

Because of a shortage of money, gender-specific spots aimed at 13- to-15-year-olds about the consequences of drinking--produced in 1993 and 1994 by N.W. Ayer & Partners, New York--were submitted to stations in just 25 markets, he said. And now they will air nationally.

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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