Drug office to yank terror ads in about-face

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The White House anti-drug office will end its controversial drugs-and-terror advertising campaign and, in a reversal, shift more of its $150 million budget toward kids as it fights for Congress to extend the program another five years.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy will also cease a polarizing $8 million annual study that found the ads aimed at youth were not working and that pitted the drug office against the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Now, the office will direct 60% of its buys toward youth-oriented media-the same percentage it had previously directed at adults-and will focus on halting drug use among kids already using rather than aim to deter kids from starting drugs. The drugs-and-terror ads will end in May.

U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., and chairman of the Government Reform panel, where the changes were announced, left little doubt that there is a move to present a united front as Congress readies to vote on extending the youth anti-drug ad program. "We all realize that what we don't want to do is have internal debates kill the ad campaign. That very nearly happened because we got into this huge debate between those backing the [drug office] and those backing the Partnership."

The drugs-and-terror campaign first broke five months after the Sept. 11 attacks, with two Super Bowl ads that cost the drug office more than $3 million to run. The spots centered on the idea that people who purchase drugs help fund terrorism. One ad showed a shopping list that includes an AK-47 rifle. "Where do terrorists get their money?" said the voice-over. "If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you." Later ads replaced "terrorism" with "terror," suggesting drug buys supported drug-cartel attacks on innocent civilians.

The ads were controversial not only because of their message, but because of the way they were produced. While almost all White House Office of National Drug Control Policy creative comes from the Partnership, the terrorism ads were produced outside the Partnership by the drug office's agency, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather.

That set off a public spat over the spots, and later a congressional skirmish over who should direct the youth ad program.

The Partnership said the ads were off-strategy and refused to do any of the spots. Partnership Vice Chairman Allen Rosenshine, chairman-CEO of Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, ripped the campaign in a congressional hearing.

Moreover, the Partnership suggested the drug office spent too little of its money on advertising, citing the now-canceled study, whose findings conflicted with other government research as well as drug-office research efforts duplicating the Partnership's strategic and effectiveness work. Drug-office officials, meanwhile, suggested the office may produce more of the ads, citing their quick production time and talk value. They also pointed to other problems in getting Partnership creative delivered in time.

$25 million cut

The battle, coming to a drug office already wounded by complaints over Ogilvy's initial stewardship of the account, bolstered congressional critics who tried to cut spending dramatically. They eventually reduced it by about $25 million to about $150 million.

It is expected that legislation to continue the program will soon be proposed by a bipartisan group of senators. Reps. Souder and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said last week that it would likely include language limiting the drug office's ability to go outside the Partnership for creative and also language that could require the drug office to rebid the contract won last year by Ogilvy.

Mr. Souder's panel had been the scene of repeated attacks in the past on Ogilvy regarding its early billing practices. Ogilvy in early 2002 agreed to pay $1.8 million to settle civil charges stemming from its billing for the drug office.

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