Federal anti-drug officials planning the biggest-ever government-backed anti-drug communications program should look first to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America for creative direction. That they may not, that they may instead contract out for a single ad agency (as if this were just another government campaign) is little short of dumbfounding.
Yet American Association of Advertising Agencies President-CEO O. Burtch Drake found himself at the
White House a few days ago in the strange role of trying to sell Clinton administration officials on the advantages of using a team of creative all-stars from throughout the agency business (working free) and opposing the idea of handing some agency a very nice piece of for-profit business.
Congress is considering $110 million to $195 million in taxpayer dollars for the first year of a paid media campaign with the understanding that the media would donate time and space equal to what the government purchases. This is to be part of a major new national crusade, but the ad agency business signed on for this crusade years ago through the Advertising Council and then the Partnership.
Large numbers of agency people feel deeply about the drug scourge, and the ads they have created on a volunteer basis show it-they've been hard-hitting, imaginative, emotional and backed by smart strategies. Because, too often, they haven't won the media exposure they need, the government's willingness to buy media time and space can make a critical difference. But not if Washington spurns the Partnership in favor of hiring its own agency.
Is control the issue? Federal officials do have a duty to oversee how taxpayers funds are spent, but we doubt the Partnership's volunteers expect some sort of blank check to do whatever they want creatively. On the other hand, if what Washington wants is access to top creative thinking from the ad business, offered by people who are passionate on this issue and who want to prove ads can make a difference, there's no better partner it can ask for than the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
The catholic league is making a big mistake trying to bully advertisers that buy time in "Nothing Sacred," a new ABC show about an unconventional priest that the league clearly dislikes. Criticizing TV shows is a sport open to everybody, but the league's recent "Think again!" ads threatening advertisers with boycotts carry a different warning than that which the boycotters intend.
Instead, it's a warning to "Nothing Sacred" advertisers to stick to their guns and not substitute the judgment of any one outside group for what an advertiser itself believes is proper. To do otherwise invites more demands, and ultimately deprives other viewers of the right to make their own decisions about what is and isn't good TV. Advertisers have plenty of other places to turn for advice on what Americans think-chief among them the ratings that show which shows are getting tuned out. There's also the media's TV critics (some of whom see "Nothing Sacred" as a potential bright spot in the new season) and other groups.
If the Catholic League believes "Nothing Sacred" shouldn't be watched, it can tell its membership and anyone else who cares to listen to change the channel. But by seeking to kill a show by intimidating its advertisers, the league tries to dictate what everyone gets to watch, or not watch, on free TV (supported by advertising). And that's censorship, pure and simple.