Super Bowl

WHITE HOUSE DRUG OFFICE TO SKIP SUPER BOWL

Drug Makers Also Keep Low Profile on Marketing's Biggest Stage

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The White House drug office will not break one of its youth-targeted anti-drug ads on the Super Bowl, TV's biggest audience draw of the year, becoming the second major public-policy group to skip the ad-filled football championship game.
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The marketers of erectile dysfunction drugs Levitra and Cialis are also skipping the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla., and broadcast by Fox, in what is apparently a policy-related move to lower the drug industry's advertising profile.

Few public-service ads
The Super Bowl is as sought after by public-policy makers as it is by marketers, though the broadcast networks have accepted few such spots. While the drug office's purchase of a Super Bowl spot has been expensive -- last year's cost for a 30-second spot was $2.25 million -- the White House got a benefit that no other advertiser received: Media companies have to provide a free ad for every paid public service announcement.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the American Legacy Foundation, which creates anti-smoking ad under the "Truth" campaign, have been the two public-policy groups to advertise regularly in recent years on the Super Bowl.

Terrorism and drug ads
The ONDCP since 2002 has used the Super Bowl to unveil its most visible efforts, some of which have been controversial. Two spots that broke on the Super Bowl in 2002 five months after the Sept. 11 attacks linked the purchase of illegal drugs as a means to fund terrorism. One ad showed a shopping list that includes an AK-47 rifle. "Where do terrorists get their money?" a voice-over asks. "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."

In spot with a more traditional message that aired on last year's game, one night in the life of a drug-using teen unspools in reverse, to show where a friend or parent could have intervened to help stop drug use.

Budget cuts
Tom Riley, a spokesman for the ONDCP, attributed this year's decision to skip the Super Bowl to budget cuts. Congress late last year cut funding for the youth anti-drug campaign by 17.2%, from $145 million to $125 million annually.

"We think that the Super Bowl is a great [ad] buy for us and a great co-viewing opportunity" for parents and their children, Mr. Riley said. "It's been [this way] over the last few years and has been effective, but our budget has been reduced, and we are trying to focus our buying and have been forced to make some hard choices."

The American Legacy Foundation has run anti-smoking ads on the game since 2001. The foundation was formed by 46 state attorneys general after a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies over state lawsuits and was initially funded by tobacco company contributions. Those contributions have now almost entirely ceased, and Legacy, which last year ran a spot about an ice pop made with shards of glass to demonstrate the dangers of tobacco products, won't be back on the Super Bowl this year.

'Podium of the Super Bowl'
"We may never be on the Bowl again, or it may be the only television we use," said Chris Cullen, Legacy's executive vice president for marketing and communications. "We believe in the podium of the Super Bowl as an efficient buy, but as a public charity with a year-round obligation we have to ensure there is a continuity plan complementing a Super Bowl effort."

Mr. Cullen said the foundation is considering reduced-funding scenarios. This fiscal year, he said, spending is at 70% of its five-year average spending level, and next year it will be at 50%.

DTC's low profile
Meanwhile, direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisers are also largely skipping the Super Bowl this year amid worries that Congress will limit DTC advertising following several notable drug recalls, such as Vioxx. Last year Schering-Plough's Levitra and Cialis, which is made by Eli Lilly and Icos Corp., were heavily advertised during the game.

This year an ad for Novartis' Ciba Vision is so far the only prescription drug ad in the game.

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