ONDCP Links Drugs, Drinking in New Ads


By Wendy Melillo

Early-intervention campaign from FCB, Ogilvy kicks off on Super Bowl

WASHINGTON The White House’s latest anti-drug media effort, which launches during the Super Bowl this Sunday, links drug use with drinking in TV ads for the first time in the campaign’s five-year history, sources said.

The new work, from New York shops Foote Cone & Belding and Ogilvy & Mather, also promotes the concept of “early intervention”—another first. That marks a shift in focus from the campaign’s usual prevention-based messages. Early intervention is a drug-treatment strategy favored by drug czar John Walters.

“The campaign enlists the power of peers and parents of teens to take early action against youth drug use and will provide information and support to help get their friends or children to stop using illicit drugs,” the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a statement. The work will be unveiled at a press event in New York this week before airing this weekend.

ONDCP officials declined to discuss the specifics of the advertising before Thursday’s event. But sources said the FCB work targets parents, while the Ogilvy work is directed at teens. The ONDCP plans to run one ad during the Super Bowl and a second during the Survivor: All-Stars premiere following the game.

A 30-second spot called “Rewind” by FCB is due to air during the game, sources said. The story unfolds in reverse chronological order, not unlike the movie Memento. The viewer first sees a girl passed out on a couch. The scene flashes to her vomiting in a urinal. Subsequent scenes show her getting high and drinking from a red cup at a party. She then appears at school with friends, on the school bus and back at home. At that point, which is the “beginning” of the story, the girl’s mother has a chance to intervene. “We’ve got to talk,” she says, holding up a bag of marijuana.

“Rewind” does not explicitly mention alcohol but “subtly” makes the association between drinking and drug use, as one source put it. The ad is intended to show parents of teens who drink and smoke pot that they have an opportunity to halt the problem before their children become hard-core drug users. “It is not an anti-drinking spot,” the source said.

A second FCB spot, not airing during the Super Bowl, opens with a husband and wife slamming doors on each other as though they are angry. The viewer soon learns that they are rehearsing a conversation they plan to have with their children about drugs.

A 30-second spot from Ogilvy, targeted at friends of teens who drink and use drugs, will air during Survivor on Sunday. The concept addresses the responsibility a friend or loved one has toward someone who has a drug or drinking problem. The spot depicts “what would happen in a lake where you might have a responsibility to do something,” a source said, but declined to elaborate.

The campaign urging early intervention is designed to target teens who are drinking and smoking marijuana on a regular basis. Research showed alcohol was a major part of the drug problem, sources said.

“Conceptually, it makes a great deal of sense to send an early-intervention message to the friends and families,” said Chris Policano, a representative at Phoenix House in New York, one of the country’s largest substance-abuse treatment and prevention agencies. “We’ve always believed in the value of highlighting treatment. It is encouraging to know that ONDCP is informing friends and families of the roles they can play in helping young substance abusers get help.”

The prospect of including alcohol in the anti-drug media campaign first surfaced in 1998, when Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbied heavily for such a move. At the time, then-drug czar Barry McCaffrey argued that not enough money was available to produce effective campaigns targeting both alcohol and drugs. The current media-campaign budget is $150 million.

The issue came up again in September following the release of a National Academy of Sciences study that called for the inclusion of alcohol in the anti-drug campaign. “Parents tend to dramatically underestimate underage drinking generally and their own children’s drinking in particular,” the study said.

The beer and liquor industries have long opposed any inclusion of alcohol messages in the campaign, on the basis that responsible drinking—unlike drug use—is legal for adults. At the time of the NAS report, Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, said he was not convinced there is a need for such ads. “I would be very concerned about what a campaign to parents would look like,” he said. “I’ve seen no evidence that doing a national media campaign does any better than the community-based efforts we and a lot of other groups do.”

“The distillers are committed to fighting underage drinking,” said Lisa Hawkins, a rep for the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. “We support the concept of educating parents and other adults, but we believe messages regarding alcohol and drugs should be separated. Underage drinking is illegal, but moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a normal, healthy adult lifestyle.”

“My hope is this campaign opens the floodgates to more government-sponsored messages to parents about the risks associated with underage drinking. A toast to ONDCP,” said George Hacker, director of health-advocacy group Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

FCB and Ogilvy’s work was done through The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which coordinates pro-bono creative contributions to the campaign from a roster of about 40 agencies. ONDCP’s lead agency, Ogilvy, primarily manages the media buys but also does some creative work. – with Kathleen Sampey