Drug office kicks old ad habits

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Worried that its anti-drug campaign has grown dated and preachy, the White House is reworking it in a $50 million bid to speak to young people in an edgier and more credible voice.

It's also shifting its media strategy to use less network TV and focus more on the Web, comic books and venues such as malls and arcades where teens spend their time.

The abandonment of a campaign that pitched sports and artistic pursuits as self-esteem-building alternatives to drugs is surprising since it comes even as research indicates a decline in drug use by young people. But officials of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said their studies revealed that many teens were skeptical of the campaign's message and felt the ads talked down to them.

"It didn't seem very fresh," said Tom Riley, a drug office spokesman.

The first of six new commercials breaks this week and the campaign will run through April. The budget for that period is $25 million, but with media companies forced to provide a free ad for every paid one, the value of the time and space will be doubled.

Direct voice

The ads speak with a more direct voice about drugs, using words such as "weed" and "pot" instead of "marijuana" and urging kids not to give in to peer pressure.

One ad features a teen with his fist in his mouth and a woman translating his mumbling speech: "Yesterday, my friends told me to smoke some pot and I did, and today they told me to fit my fist in my mouth. I did. I am an idiot." The spot ends with the slogan, "Live above the influence, above them, above weed."

The switch in creative and media strategy follows Foote Cone & Belding replacing Ogilvy & Mather as the drug office's agency. FCB created the new ads on behalf of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

In addition to TV and print work, the Web budget will double and ads will appear in movie theaters, arcades and shopping centers.

Keith Ross, VP-associate creative director at FCB, said the previous campaign, using the theme "Your anti-drug," had the wrong tone for teens.

"Asking them to be anti-something is a difficult proposition," he said, adding that the new campaign is "all about making choices and not being pressured."

Kristi Rowe, the Partnership VP-director of content development, said the change also reflects the Partnership's research and testing about what works. All of the ads still target marijuana use, a change in focus made by the Bush administration.

Budget cuts

The changes come amid budget cuts for the campaign. Congress cut spending to $120 million this year, of which only part goes to media advertising.

The drug office is planning a rollout of the campaign this week with buys on TV programs that draw teen audiences. It will be the sole sponsor of Web pages for part of the week at WWE.com, Yahoo Music, AOL Music and EXPN.com. Print ads break in comic books and teen magazines in late November.

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