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Friday, November 08, 2002

Light Up That Joint - And The Terrorists Win

I have a mole in the advertising side of the War on Drugs. Slick Madison Avenue ad agencies make up War on Drug ads, and other slick Madison Avenue types conduct focus groups, both to test the effectiveness of current ads, and to pre-test proposed new ad campaigns.

Here is a brief description of a new television campaign:

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America today released a new series of ads focusing on the dangers of marijuana use. The ads are a response to research showing that American youth want to be provided with the facts about marijuana. The bold new ads, which start today in heavy rotation across the country, speak in a vernacular that teens understand and will find hard to dismiss.

...The contents of the ads are a direct result of research conducted with teens of various ages and ethnic backgrounds across America.... In focus groups, teens identified two major reasons to avoid marijuana: it can lead to stupid, sometimes tragic mistakes (such as driving with someone who is high, or having unplanned, unprotected sex), and it can get you into trouble with the law. These disincentives were incorporated into the four ads titled, "Drive-Thru," "Den," "Couple," and "Concert."

Well, I am betting that I have seen "Den" twice, and it could be re-named "Date-rape". The party, the dope, the cute blond chick, the lapse into near-unconsciousness... not a good scene.

My mole tells me that focus groups love these ads. Furthermore, just as the press release says, the underlying research is, as these things go, solid. The scenarios are specific, plausible, disturbing, and give kids a real reason to say no. Soundbite: "In focus groups, the kids are always saying 'Scare me'".

And now let us turn our attention to another Gov't backed ad campaign - when you buy drugs, you are supporting an international network of terror. This may take you back to last year's Super Bowl, and many folks howled in outrage then.

John Walters, Drug Czar, loves these ads, I am assured. John Ashcroft is apparently a backer of the drugs-terror linkage as well, although Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Stuttaford of NRO see it differently.

Currently a new set of print ads is being prepared based on the idea that the war on drugs is part of the war on terror. The ads are being pre-tested in focus groups, and guess what? Glenn and Andrew are not alone. Preliminary results show that focus group reaction ranged from apathy, across skepticism, all the way to hostility. This would not normally be taken as the foundation for a successful campaign.

Well, awkward moment. There is frustration for the folks fighting over ad budget resources - the teen oriented ads work in discouraging irresponsible drug use, while this "terrorists win" stuff looks like a loser. But of course, the big-time agency that produced the new campaign doesn't want to admit defeat, and John Walters, your Drug Czar, doesn't want to hear it.

So, get ready: War on Drugs equals War on Terror. Don't laugh. But do look for your Congressman's e-mail address.

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