Clinton's anti-drug push may squeeze other PSAs

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President Clinton's proposed anti-drug advertising program--now being described as a five-year, $1.75 billion media effort instead of just a one-year push at $350 million--could entail a big-bucks commitment for the media, which are being asked to pay half the cost.

It also creates new worries for interest groups whose unpaid, public service announcements unrelated to drugs could be squeezed as the media opt for paid anti-drug ads or succumb to White House pressure.


"It worries me if in fact we are making those kinds of choices," said Ruth Wooden, president of the Advertising Council, which produces a number of public service programs that could be hurt and a few that could benefit.

She said the decisions could affect how public service advertising gets done and when spots will air.

"It is going to impact in the prime dayparts," Ms. Wooden said. "The inventory is going to get tighter."

President Clinton, in requesting $175 million for the anti-drug campaign in the fiscal year that begins in October, left no doubt of who will pay the other half of the $350 million he wants spent annually:

"We propose adding up to $175 million to seed a far-reaching media campaign to get out the facts and shape the attitudes of these young people. We'll be seeking matching funds from the private sector for a total of $350 million, because this must be a shared responsibility. If a child does watch television--and what child doesn't?--he or she should not be able to escape these messages," he said.

By "matching funds," the president meant donated ad time and space.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America's anti-drug public service campaign earned more than $260 million in exposure last year, which seemed to indicate that media companies could easily fulfill the president's goal.


However, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, head of the White House drug office, said last week that media weight for the ads has dropped 30% from 1991 to 1995 and with drug use statistics rising support for the current ads isn't enough.

"Children's use of drugs has gone up for the last five years," Gen. McCaffrey said. "If I was buying advertising, I'd say my advertising campaign is failing."

He called for a media buy that offers the free ads in the same dayparts and targets as the paid ads. Gen. McCaffrey mentioned print as well as broadcast ads, though the government campaign is expected to run mainly on broadcast stations.


The Partnership for a Drug-Free America said last week that getting time in dayparts most watched by teen-agers has been difficult.

"The networks do a fairly good job in getting us placements in programs for 6-to-8-year-olds on Saturday mornings, but there is not as much precision in teen-targeted messages because PSAs don't have the clout or leverage when competing with paid customers," said Steve Distrian, senior VP at the partnership.


For media companies, the proposal appears to offer the choice of either creating additional public service time during desirable dayparts, including prime time, for the donated time or simply giving the anti-drug ads better play at the expense of other PSAs.

Ms. Wooden said the government hopes that the possibility of earning some money on the ads will convince the networks to open up additional time.

"It's a negotiating strategy and . . . it's a testable premise," she said. "Buying is probably the only way to get public service in prime time, and I think it will even be difficult to buy."

TV networks last week questioned the Clinton proposal and noted that anti-drug efforts already are a major part of their public service advertising. ABC last weekend launched a monthlong "March Against Drugs" campaign featuring 48 PSAs, with at least one airing each hour. NBC cited its "The More You Know" series of PSAs that has talked about drugs, while CBS said that it had nothing to be embarrassed about and noted the number of requests from the Clinton administration recently to run campaigns about AIDS, violence and other issues.


"We are more than willing to do our part in the war against drugs, just as we are to do our part in the war against AIDS," said Marty D. Franks, senior VP at CBS. "We get many requests to run PSAs, and we could use some help in choosing between those coming from the administration. We are not experts in national crises."

Some interest groups also expressed concern about the Clinton proposal.

"Certainly, we think drugs are a serious problem, but we would hate to see all other serious issues excluded from the mix," said a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund. "The beauty of PSAs is they allow for diversity of viewpoints. We would hope that media outlets would consider us all important."

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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