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The Persistence Of Folly: ONDCP's Anti Drug Media Campaign
On June 10, 2009, "the House Appropriations Committee reduced the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign's yearly funding by 71% from $70 million to $20 million," Tyler Smith reports at Students for Sensible Drug Policy's Dare Generation Diary blog ("House Cuts Anti-Drug Media Campaign"). In an interesting twist, the money will no longer go to spots that address themselves to teenage audiences but are rather "specifically intended for ads targeting parents." Apparently, the Committee listened to research that found only "a 'weak' association" between teens' viewing of anti-drug ads and "anti-drug attitudes," as well as "a comprehensive multi-year evaluation [that used] more extensive data found no evidence of any positive effect at all" ("Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, 2010").
For more on this issue, see Tyler's above-linked blog post, as well as the bill itself, which is viewable here.
Some California TV Stations Refuse to Air Marijuana Reform Ad Despite Having Given Ample Air Time to Opposition in the Past
According to a July 8, 2009 AP report ("Pro-Marijuana Ad Pushes Pot as Calif. Budget Fix"), at least four California television stations have refused to air an advertisement that "advocat[es] legalization and taxation of [marijuana] to help solve the state's budget woes." The 30-second ad, "paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project," features medicinal cannabis user Nadene Herndon, who straight-forwardly tells viewers that marijuana consumers would prefer to "pay our fair share" in taxes "[i]nstead of being treated like criminals for using a substance safer than alcohol." San Francisco ABC affiliate "KGO told MPP that they 'weren't comfortable' with the spot," reports the Drug War Chronicle ("Censorship in California -- MPP Marijuana Ad Campaign Hits Bumps as Stations Reject It"), and the only television station to explain its decision to the Associate Press - San Jose's KNTV-TV - "said [its] standards department had rejected the ad." The Chronicle's article on the issue additionally states that Los Angeles' KABC declined to air the ad on the grounds that it "promotes marijuana use," though MPP spokesperson Bruce Mirken explicitly stated that "the ad was meant to promote conversation about the issues, not to encourage pot use." Indeed, as he told the Chronicle, "this wasn't a stunt to get press coverage. This was intentionally a very innocuous ad."
Although no one is claiming that unwilling stations have infringed upon MPP's First Amendment rights, the Chronicle asserts that "the effect of [the censorship] is to suppress MPP's ability to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and MPP smells a double standard." As Mirken points out, "Pretty much all of these stations that rejected our ad have aired ONDCP anti-marijuana ads, which are often blatantly dishonest." In short, television stations that continually run ONDCP propaganda but refuse to air the other side's arguments, while doing nothing illegal, "are effectively taking sides in the argument," Mirken says, and, as the ACLU of Washington's drug policy director Alison Holcomb puts it, "undermin[ing] a core principle underlying the First Amendment: that the strength of a democracy flows from the exchange of ideas."
On a more positive note, several cable stations and local affiliates have aired the spot, as Scott Morgan reported on July 8 ("California TV Stations Try to Censor Marijuana Debate"). Additionally, if your community's television stations have censored the ad (or if you live outside of California), it is viewable below.
ONDCP Spends Millions On Ads In Spite Of Federal Research Proving Campaign Is A Failure
The Super Bowl will once again feature the waste of millions of dollars in the form of ONDCP's proven ineffective advertisements. On January, 24, 2008 Advertising Age ("White House takes new tack in drug war") reported that 'The spot is part of a 12-week multimedia campaign that for the first time switches the focus from teens to their parents, and delivers a loud warning that it's no longer just illegal drugs that put teens at risk."
According to Advertising Age, "The $14 million push, which will get $28 million in airtime, was produced by Interpublic Group of Cos. DraftFCB for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Newspaper ads and a second TV ad will follow, and the drug office is also buying ads on bags used by pharmacists to dispense prescription drugs. Only $60 million was authorized by Congress this year, less than half of the $130 million requested and less than a third of the spending in the campaign's early days. The cuts led the drug office to suspend a second campaign aimed at parents and influencers and to concentrate on teens."
AdAge noted that "National ads are about marijuana and other illegal drugs; an anti-methamphetamine campaign also runs in some markets. In one of the most controversial spots, which ran five months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, an ad showed a shopping list that includes an AK-47 rifle. 'Where do terrorists get their money' asked the voice-over. 'If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you."
The US General Accounting Office has determined that the Office of National Drug Control Policy engaged in 'covert propaganda' by using advertising in the form of so-called video news releases without identifying the source of the ads. According to the GAO's opinion document released on the question Jan. 4, 2005, "While ONDCP is authorized by the Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998 to engage in 'news media outreach,' ONDCP is also required to comply with applicable appropriations act publicity or propaganda prohibitions. Those prohibitions require ONDCP to disclose to the television viewing audience ONDCP's role in the production and distribution of its news stories. There is no reasonable basis in the law to find that Congress exempted ONDCP from these prohibitions. Since ONDCP did not provide the required disclosures, ONDCP's prepackaged news stories constituted covert propaganda in violation of publicity or propaganda prohibitions of the fiscal year 2002, 2003, and 2004 appropriations acts. Moreover, because ONDCP had no appropriation available to produce and distribute materials in violation of each of these publicity or propaganda prohibitions, ONDCP also violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341. ONDCP must report these violations to the Congress and the President, and submit a copy of that report to this Office. 31U.S.C. 1351, as amended by Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, Pub. L. No. 108-447, div. G, title II, 1401, 118 Stat. 2809, ___ (Dec. 8, 2004)."
The GAO determined that:
For more on this, check out the GAO's website.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy released some details about new installments in the Antidrug Media Campaign for 2004. Advertising Week reported on Jan. 26, 2004 ( "ONDCP Links Drugs, Drinking In New Ads") that "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."
According to Ad Week, "A 30-second spot called "Rewind" by FCB [Foote Cone & Belding] is due to air during the [Super Bowl] 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."
(Editor's Note: More than "not an anti-drinking spot," one has to wonder if the ad could be dangerously misinterpreted. What message is sent when marijuana is referred to as the 'beginning' of teen substance abuse? For most young people, substance abuse starts with alcohol -- see for reference Drug War Facts: Adolescents / Education & Prevention Programs, Drug War Facts: Drug Use Estimates, and Drug War Facts: Alcohol. So the question is, is ONDCP inadvertently saying that teen alcohol use is not a problem unless and until a young person is also using illegal drugs? Some would argue instead that the time to show concern should have been much earlier, when the young person started abusing alcohol, rather than waiting until she is not only using marijuana, she is keeping bags of it at home.)
The question of combining anti-alcohol and anti-other-drugs messages is controversial. The Ad Week article noted that "a [September 2003] 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." On the other hand, the idea faces opposition from the alcohol industry. As Ad Week noted, "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.""
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has released what may be its final evaluation of ONDCP's Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The evaluations have been conducted by Westat and the Annenberg School of Communications under a grant from NIDA. According to Advertising Age on Jan. 19, 2004 ( "Study Faults White House Anti-Drug Ads"), "A study commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse ( NIDA ) has concluded that the advertising program of the White House anti-drug office has had little impact on its primary target: America's teenagers. Conducted jointly by the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Westat, a 30-year-old research firm in Rockville, Md., the analysis concluded that "there is little evidence of direct favorable [advertising] campaign effects on youth.""
The report noted "The drug office spends $150 million a year on advertising, and those expenditures have been the subject of ongoing controversy in Congress. The NIDA report covers the advertising campaign's start in September 1999 through June 2003. Entitled "Evaluation of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: 2003 Report of Findings," the report issued by NIDA notes that the advertising campaigns have had a "favorable effect" on parents but not on the children, whose illicit drug use is the focus of the ads."
Copies of the evaluation, as well as previous evaluations, can be downloaded from NIDA's website at www.nida.nih.gov/despr/westat/.
The following are some pertinent quotes from the report. For more information on the ONDCP ad campaign and on other prevention efforts, see Drug War Facts: Adolescents / Education & Prevention of Substance Abuse.
"The NSPY [National Survey of Parents and Youth] did not find significant reductions in marijuana us either leading up to or
after the Marijuana campaign for youth 12 to 18 years old
between 2002 and 2003. Indeed there was evidence for an increase
in past month and past year use among the target audience of
14- to 16-year-olds, although it appears that the increase was
already in place in the last half of 2002, before the launch of
the Marijuana Initiative. It will be worthwhile to track whether
the nonsignificant decline from the second half of 2002 through
the first half of 2003 is the beginning of a true trend. There
was a significant decrease in lifetime marijuana use among youth
16 to 18 years of age from 2002 to 2003; however, since this
significant decrease was not replicated in either the
directly relevant past year or past month time periods, it
is difficult to ascribe the change to the campaign."
Two advertising executives were indicted in early January 2004 for their part in overbilling ONDCP's antidrug media campaign. The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 7, 2004 ( "Two Tied To Ogilvy Contract With US Are Indicted") that "A grand jury indicted one current and one former senior executive of WPP Group PLC's Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, alleging the pair worked with unidentified co-conspirators to defraud the U.S. government. The indictment also alleges the duo made false claims while working on a lucrative account for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The action surprised Madison Avenue, which largely believed the matter had been resolved after Ogilvy paid $1.8 million to settle civil charges in February 2002. At the time, Ogilvy, one of the ad industry's best-known shops, said it voluntarily withdrew $850,000 in billings to the U.S. because it lacked confidence in the documentation supporting the figure."
The two deny the charges and seem to be preparing to defend themselves. As reported by New York's Newsday on Jan. 8, 2004 ( "Top Ad Exec Quits After Charge"), "Thomas Early, 48, of Rockville Centre, and Shona Seifert, 43, of Southport, Conn., were charged with inflating billing costs related to a $137 million yearly media campaign commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Early, who had been a senior partner and finance director of the agency's Manhattan office, quit yesterday 'in order to devote his full energies to obtaining a full vindication in this matter,' according to an Ogilvy statement. Early and his attorney, Laurence Urgenson, a partner in the Washington firm Kirkland & Ellis, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Seifert, a former Ogilvy senior partner and executive group director who is now president of the Manhattan agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, said Tuesday she was 'saddened and dismayed' by the charges but is innocent. Seifert's attorney is Gregory Craig, a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm Williams & Connolly who led President Bill Clinton's impeachment defense team in 1998. Yesterday both pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and Judge Richard Berman set their bond at $500,000 each and %25,000 in collateral. The two face one count of conspiracy and 10 counts of false claims. If convicted, they face five years in prison on each count and potentially millions of dollars in fines."
The More Things Stay The Same: ONDCP Again Launches New Ads In Super-Expensive Super Bowl As Feds Release Report Calling Anti-Drug Media Campaign A Failure
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) launched a new set of ads during the 2003 Super Bowl. Like the previous year, some of the ads attempt -- and fail -- to address narcotrafficking-funded terrorism, while others focus on marijuana use. The New York Times described the ads on Jan. 28, 2003 ( "Super Buildup, But Unfulfilled Expectations"), reporting that "One commercial, set on a subway, borrows liberally from the films 'Ghost' and 'Sixth Sense' to assert that anyone who buys drugs can fuel the terror wreaked worldwide by drug dealers. If that is not clear enough, the theme pounds in the message: 'Drug money supports terrible things.' As does antidrug money, apparently. Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, part of WPP. In a second spot, co-sponsored with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a teenage girl's pregnancy is attributed to her smoking marijuana. Don't hold your breath waiting for the Super Bowl ad that blames beer binges for such pregnancies. Agency: McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising, part of Interpublic."
The ad placement cost taxpayers more than $4 million, according to Fox News on Jan. 24, 2003 ( "White House Launches Super Bowl Anti-Drug Ads").
The ads debuted mere days after ONDCP and NIDA released the Fifth Semiannual Evaluation of the Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The Evaluation -- which was actually published in November 2002 though it was not made available until Jan. 23, 2003 -- found no change from earlier reports which found little or no positive campaign effects, and possible negative impacts among some youth.
Below are several quotes from the Fifth Evaluation. The chapters
from which most of them are drawn are available online through
the following links:
"There is no statistically significant change for the
full 12- to 18-year-old sample in intentions to use marijuana
once or twice over the five waves of measurement among prior
nonusers. There is, however, a small trend, unfavorable to the
Campaign, on marijuana intentions among 14- to 18-year-old
nonusers. The downward trend appears to be statistically
equivalent among both the 14- to 15-year-olds and 16- to
18-year-olds." (p. 5-8)
Source for the above: Hornik, Robert, et al.,
'Evaluation of the
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: Fifth Semi-Annual
Report of Findings,' Delivered to: National Institute
on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Department of
Health and Human Services By: Westat & the Annenberg
School for Communication, Contract No.: N01DA-8-5063,
November 2002, available on the web from
The National Institute on Drug Abuse released the Fourth Semi-Annual Evaluation of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign in mid-June 2002. The report presents the results of an ongoing analysis of the ONDCP-coordinated anti-drug advertising campaign. Copies of the evaluation, and of the previous reports, can be downloaded from http://www.nida.nih.gov/despr/westat/index.html . Researchers were able to find no positive results for youth, and in fact found some negative results. According to the Executive Summary , "There is little evidence of direct favorable Campaign effects on youth. There is no statistically significant decline in marijuana use or improvements in beliefs and attitudes about marijuana use between 2000 and 2001, and no tendency for those reporting more exposure to Campaign messages to hold more desirable beliefs. For some outcomes, and for some subgroups of respondents, analysis raises the possibility that those with more exposure to the specific Campaign ads at the start of Phase III of the Campaign had less favorable outcomes over the following 18 months. This was true for the youth respondents who were nonusers and aged 10 to 12 at the start of this phase, with regard to their intentions to use marijuana in the future and for all youth 12 to 18 for their perceived social norms about marijuana use. Girls with the highest exposure to Campaign ads at the start were more likely than less exposed girls to initiate marijuana use. This effect was not seen for boys. This unfavorable association with initiation was also significant for the youngest respondents and for the low risk respondents. Further analysis is required before any firm conclusion can be reached to support these unlikely outcomes."
In addition, the media campaign's National Survey of Parents and Youth (NSPY) found that some young people exposed to the campaign may have increased their marijuana use. According to the summary, "NSPY also examined rates of change in three other measures of marijuana use - ever use, regular use (almost every month), and use in the previous 30 days. For all ages and for all of those measures, use was unchanging between 2000 and 2001, with two exceptions. Reports of regular use and last 30 days use, while still rare, were significantly increasing among youth who were 14- to 15-years-old. Reports of past month use increased from 3.6% to 7.2%, and regular use (defined as use every month or almost every month) increased from 2.2% to 5.4%."
Some positive results regarding parental behaviors were noted in the survey, though they were of questionable significant. "Overall, there are trends and cross-sectional associations consistent with Campaign effects on parent outcomes, including talking behavior and cognitions, and monitoring cognitions. These associations are most consistent for fathers. The longitudinal data do not as yet provide the hoped for additional evidence to rule out reverse causation as an explanation for the observed cross-sectional associations. Also, the evidence does not as yet support an effect of parent exposure on youth behavior." Ultimately, "There was no cross-sectional associational evidence for any group that parent exposure was associated with lower marijuana consumption among youth."
Other data in the evaluation
raises questions about the parental responses. According to
A full copy of the report can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking here, or it can be downloaded in chunks from this webpage. Also, a copy of the most recent National Survey of Parents and Youth can be downloaded as a PDF by clicking here.
Background: As noted in the evaluation, "Under the Treasury-Postal Appropriations Act of 1998, Congress approved funding (P.L. 105-61) for 'a national media campaign to reduce and prevent drug use among young Americans.' Pursuant to this act, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) launched the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (the Media Campaign). The Media Campaign has progressed through three phases of increasing complexity and intensity. Phases I and II are not discussed in this report. ONDCP has available other reports that evaluate those phases. This report focuses on Phase III, which began in September 1999 and is planned to run at least through spring 2003. An evaluation of Phase III is being conducted under contract to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) by Westat and its subcontractor, the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Funding of the evaluation is provided by ONDCP from the appropriation for the Media Campaign itself."
The media campaign is run by ONDCP along with