Teen shift against drugs credited to paid media

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For the first time this decade, U.S. teens are saying no to drugs and admitting it's not cool to use them. And the Partnership for a Drug-Free America thinks that its move to paid media advertising has helped make the difference.

The partnership's 12th annual teen tracking study released last week found teens' attitudes and usage patterns are beginning to shift. The survey of more than 6,000 teen-agers shows they are distancing the concept of coolness from drug use, and that drugs are becoming a smaller part of their social universe.

That result follows more than a decade of anti-drug advertisements-including the famous "This is your brain on drugs" spot with an egg frying in a pan-supported by $195 million in federal funds annually since January 1998.

From March 1987 through 1998, the non-profit partnership launched more than 600 national anti-drug ads with pro-bono creative and upwards of $3 billion in donated print space and broadcast time. But with federal backing last year, the partnership redefined public-service advertising with government funding for paid media.

Now that the partnership is purchasing media time and space it has received increased reach, heightened exposure and awareness, leading to attitudinal shifts and behavioral change, said Steve Dnistrian, exec VP of the partnership.

"The $195 million that the federal government put behind our ad campaign has contributed to these trends," Mr. Dnistrian said. "It speaks volumes for the value of paid advertising; there was nothing else going on in the marketplace that could have changed things."

`SEEN' UP 32%

According to the study, 45% of teens said they see or hear anti-drug commercials every day, up from 32% in 1998. This year, 77% of teens named TV and 48% named radio as sources of information about drugs, up from 73% and 45% respectively in 1998. Respondents also said these anti-drug messages had positive effects on them, making them more aware of the risks and less likely to try drugs.

Lloyd Johnston, a research scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, is optimistic about the study's results, which he said are consistent with the institute's findings about teens' perceived risks and disapproval of drugs.

"Increased exposure is the first necessary condition" to combating teen drug use, Mr. Johnston said. "It's a reality that youngsters are seeing ads more, and because it's a paid campaign, placement is much more strategic, much more effective."


Bobby Sheehan of agency Grenade, New York, who has directed numerous spots for the partnership said purchased media "makes all the difference in the world. All sincerity and good intentions aside, if no one sees [an ad], it can't have any impact," he said.

But teens have to do more than just see it. They have to believe it.

To appeal to this group, which Mr. Sheehan admits is "a very difficult audience to reach," the partnership launched a group of ads this fall featuring professional athletes and musicians.

Mr. Sheehan directed two of the 30-second spots, one starring the Dixie Chicks and the other featuring professional, twentysomething skateborder Andy MacDonald. The latter shows the athlete doing a high-flying twirl on his board, saying, "Drugs are only going to hinder what I'm trying to do." With a shot of him in midair, the spot closes with his voice-over: "That right there is my idea of getting high."

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