The Medical Marijuana Magazine


The Billion Dollar Crapshoot
Is This the Best Way to Attack the Drug Crisis?
July 9, 1998

TED KOPPEL, ABCNEWS (VO) The blitz began tonight in prime time. It’s the biggest government financed advertising campaign in history.

RUTH WOODEN, PRESIDENT ADVERTISING COUNCIL What you have to do is do what advertising is best at, do repetition every day of this message.

TED KOPPEL (VO) If an ad can convince kids to buy sneakers, can it persuade them to stay off drugs?

ETHAN NADELMANN, THE LINDESMITH CENTER I’d take every penny of that billion dollars and rather than spending it on a glitzy TV campaign, I’d put it into after school programs to keep poor kids out of trouble.

LLOYD JOHNSTON, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN It’s a difficult effort. It’s not easy to persuade people and kids in particular to do something.

ACTRESS (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) This is what your family goes through, and your friends ...

TED KOPPEL (VO) Tonight, the billion dollar crapshoot. Is this the best way to attack the drug crisis?

ANNOUNCER From ABCNEWS, this is Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL Back in the late 50s when I was in college, one of the most popular advertising campaigns on television, this was in New York and parts of the northeast, one of the most popular campaigns featured the voices of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, a comedy team widely known as Bob and Ray. They appeared as a couple of cartoon characters, Bert and Harry Piel, representing the Piel’s Brewery, which was real, as was Piel’s beer. The ads, as I say, were a huge success, especially with young people and organizations which give out awards for best television commercials of the year.

The brewery, however, went out of business and was subsequently sold and ultimately bought by Stroh’s. What made me think about that today was the five year, billion dollar media campaign being launched this day by the US government to warn preteens and teenagers about the dangers of drug use.

These are not, you should understand, public service announcements which television stations and networks air without charge at times of day when they haven’t been able to sell the time anyway. These ads are being bought and paid for with taxpayer money and it seems only fair to tell you that ABC is apparently making more on this deal, that is, it’s sold more sports than any of the other networks. The question is how does anybody know that these ads work?

Here’s Nightline Correspondent Michel McQueen.

MICHEL MCQUEEN, ABCNEWS (VO) The President is behind it.

PRES BILL CLINTON These ads are designed to knock America upside the head and get America’s attention.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) The Congress is behind it.

REP NEWT GINGRICH, (R), GEORGIA We are all trying to reach out to every young American and say don’t do it.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) And the ad industry is all for it.

RUTH WOODEN When advertising is properly designed and has consistency and if you stay the course, it will work.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) But will it?

ACTRESS (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) This is heroin. This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) It’s the biggest paid advertising campaign ever undertaken by the federal government.

ACTRESS (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) It’s not over yet.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) A print, Internet, television blitz led by drug czar General Barry McCaffrey. He clearly believes that this massive dose of anti—drug messages will be a critical antidote to the nation’s illegal drug problem.

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY, (RET), NATIONAL DRUG POLICY DIRECTOR What we’re trying to do is change use attitudes and we know that if you change attitudes, behavior will follow and that’s really the point of the whole strategy.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) Tonight, in an unusual show of support, the five major television networks offered what ad buyers call a roadblock, anti—drug ads showing at about the same time on all five networks. The sponsors say they expect teenagers to see the ads an average of four times a week.

RUTH WOODEN One ad is not going to do anything really to change attitudes about drug use. You have to do it on an ongoing basis.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) While drug use among adults has leveled off, government surveys show drug use among young people increasing. In 1992, for example, 27 percent of 12th graders reported having used an illicit drug at least once in the past year. In 1997, that was up to 42 percent. (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad)

ACTRESS What would you do if a stranger talked to you?

CHILD I wouldn’t talk to them because they might be bad.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) But critics say this massive effort, a billion dollars of federal money to be matched by private funds and poured into anti—drug messages over five years, is well intentioned but a waste.

ACTRESS (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) Oh, and what did your mommy tell you about drugs?

ETHAN NADELMANN It’s like a lot of the rest of our drug policy, if it feels good, we’ll throw billions at it.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) Nadelmann, an advocate of decriminalizing drugs, says there are far better ways to spend that kind of money.

ETHAN NADELMANN I’d take every penny of that billion dollars and rather than spending it on a glitzy TV campaign, I’d put it into after school programs to keep poor kids out of trouble.

ACTOR (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) Don’t be a loser. Drug addiction nobody wins.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) Others wonder why the ads do not mention alcohol.

KAROLYN NUNNALLEE, MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING The number one used illegal drug of America’s young people is alcohol and it was not even mentioned today. It is not part of this campaign and we should be appalled that it is not part of the campaign, a drug that kills eight young people every day in alcohol related crashes.

MICHEL MCQUEEN Phase one of the campaign began earlier this year in 12 test cities across the country. The government called it a success, partly because calls to drug information hotlines increased sharply in some cities. But a more skeptical view came from those who follow the advertising industry, who say that the research showing these ads actually change behavior is pretty thin soup. In April, for example, one trade publication for marketing managers created a stir, with a report questioning the research methods used to justify the ad campaign.

DAVID KILEY, "BRANDWEEK" MAGAZINE We found that the underlying research was based on surveying kids to find out how effective the kids thought that the ads were. It’s a very weak way to research a problem, hardly state—of—the—art.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) But one of the researchers cited by the government insists that young people are suprisingly attentive to the anti—drug messages.

LLOYD JOHNSTON Advertising works any time if it’s done well and if there’s enough of it, and those are important considerations because a lot of public service advertising, there isn’t enough of it and so you don’t really get an appreciable effect.

ACTOR (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) We need more cigarette smokers, pure and simple.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) Those who have watched other public awareness campaigns, like the successful anti—smoking campaign in California, agree that carefully crafted messages can have an impact.

STANTON GLANTZ, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN FRANCISCO In the original California campaign, when the ad agency designed the anti—industry ads, they were not thinking about 12 and 13 and 14 year olds. They were thinking about people who watched Nightline and they were directing them at opinion leaders. But what they found was those were the strongest messages they had for reaching kids. Kids want to be addressed as adults.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) We showed the anti—drug ads to our own group of experts, soccer players aged 13 to 17 at a boys and girls club here in Washington. They proved what the experts already know, teenagers are a tough sell.

1ST TEENAGER For teenagers, they don’t care what their parents have to say, usually, for things like drugs. Whatever makes them feel good, they’re going to do it.

2ND TEENAGER There is no universal message that you can get to reach all teenagers.

3RD TEENAGER The only thing that could really change someone’s opinion on drugs would be something that really happened to them.

ACTOR (Clip from Anti—Drug Ad) There’s this thing going around called sniffing. You think you’re getting high, but the dizzy, fuzzy feeling is just what happens when your brain doesn’t get oxygen.

MICHEL MCQUEEN (VO) But several of the kids found the ads powerful and persuasive.

4TH TEENAGER The commercials are really good for younger children and for kids who are not hooked and understand that drugs are bad and good for them so they can just, you know, keep it up and keep thinking about this so peer pressure won’t come in.

5TH TEENAGER If you tell someone that their dream will be ruined by doing this, I think that would affect them a lot cause like I know I want to play soccer, at least in college and stuff, and if I was doing drugs and someone said well you’re not going to be able to play soccer, this is going to ruin it, then I’d probably stop.

MICHEL MCQUEEN Everyone agrees that advertising alone will not eliminate the drug problem. But the money for these ads will be spent, $195 million in the first year alone, whether anyone proves they work or not. It may be the government’s chicken soup solution to the drug problem. It can’t hurt. It might help.

This is Michel McQueen for Nightline in Washington.

TED KOPPEL In a moment I’ll be joined by the President’s drug czar, by a child psychologist and an advertising columnist.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL Joining us from Atlanta, General Barry McCaffrey, director of the President’s office of drug control policy, from Los Angeles, psychologist Robert Butterworth, who has studied the effectiveness of anti—drug ads and in our New York bureau, Stuart Elliott, advertising columnist for the New York Times.

General McCaffrey, you remember the late Ed Durksen (ph) who used to say a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money. A billion dollars is a lot of money for a campaign, the effectiveness of which you cannot know yet.

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY (Atlanta) Yeah, well, Ted, the point is there are 16,000 dead a year and we think $110 billion a year damages of drug abuse. What we’ve got now is a good historical database from Jim Burke and the Partnership for A Drug Free America that tells us we can affect youth attitudes. We’ve also tested this approach in 12 pilot cities over the last four months. We did a good survey going in, a midcourse look at it. We’re now analyzing the data. We’ve got dramatic feedback, a 500 percent increase in telephone calls, for example, to community coalitions, a 300 percent increase in telephone calls into our national drug clearinghouse. So we’re confident that over time youth attitudes can be affected and behavior is basically described by their own attitudes.

TED KOPPEL Actually, you raise an interesting question. If, indeed, the response of people to these ads is to pick up the phone and call, the natural question is going to be I’m calling, I need help, where can I get it? Do you have enough drug treatment centers around the country, for example, that all these people who are going to start calling will, in fact, be able to get help?

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY No, we don’t. As a matter of fact, I think we’ve probably got around 50 percent of the treatment capacity we need. We’re trying to close that gap, reduce the distinction between the enormous number, four million plus chronically addicted Americans and our capacity to effectively put them into drug treatment. We also don’t really have the tools at hand in community coalitions to pull together business leaders, educators, parents groups, etc. But I think we’re going to see that build in response to the demand that this may impel. Our sales force out there are parents, ministers, doctors, local law enforcement. They’ve got to see these ads and respond to them.

TED KOPPEL I want to come back to that area of discussion, but let’s move out to Los Angeles for a moment and Robert Butterworth. As I indicated at the top of the program, you have done studies into the effectiveness of television ads against drug use. How effective have you found them to be?

ROBERT BUTTERWORTH, PSYCHOLOGIST (Los Angeles) Well, what teenagers might say in a focus group and what they’ll do when they’re confronted with peer pressure can be two different things. A lot of youngsters may say yes, I was impacted by it, but when their friends say hey, how about a joint, it doesn’t seem to be strong enough or have any kind of a negative penalty to it. So the problem is for teenagers a lot of them are going to listen to the ads. They may give lip service to it. But when they really get into a situation when they’re confronted with a big danger, and remember the big danger with teenagers and drugs is peer pressure, it doesn’t seem to be strong enough.

TED KOPPEL And what can we infer, then, from the initial reaction that these ads have had in the 12 cities that General McCaffrey was talking about, that people do seem to be calling? In other words, what I’m asking is picking up the phone and calling is one thing, actually taking action is something else again.

ROBERT BUTTERWORTH Well, there may be people calling. Indeed, these may be folks that have been on drugs for two or three years who really are in difficulty. But the problem is, remember, we want to keep kids from starting and when kids first start drugs, it doesn’t feel negative, it doesn’t feel bad. They’re actually feeling good. And then they get hooked and then they get trapped. We need to find a method that will keep kids from experimenting, taking the first step. And I’m afraid these ads may not keep these kids from taking the first step.

TED KOPPEL Let me talk about what ads can do, and Stuart Elliott, I want to turn to you on this, it’s one thing to sell a sneaker, to sell a soft drink, to sell a car. It’s something else again to unsell someone on doing something that they find attractive. How, if, I mean can you point to any ads in another area that have actually succeeded in getting people to stop doing something that they wanted to do?

STUART ELLIOTT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (New York) Well, I think one of the best examples is the efforts involving the designated driver, which was an effort to modify behavior. That took a great number of years, a lot of money plus a commitment not only of advertising but of content of television programs and newspaper articles and magazine articles and motion pictures all changing, trying to change the behavior of ...

TED KOPPEL When you say a great many years, how many years are you talking about?

STUART ELLIOTT This was over the course of almost a decade and now, indeed, there is data showing that there is widespread acceptance of the designated driver but again, that was also an effort to try to modify behavior on something that was, has much broader consensus than the drug issue.

TED KOPPEL Let’s take a short break and when we come back, we’ll be rejoined by our three guests, in a moment.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL And we’re back once again with General Barry McCaffrey, psychologist Robert Butterworth and columnist Stuart Elliott.

General McCaffrey, you were very candid before when I asked you about how many, I mean do you have enough drug treatment centers and you said no, we don’t. I don’t know how much it costs to set up a drug treatment center, but I suspect you could set up a lot of drug treatment centers for a billion dollars.

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY Well, I don’t think this is an either or situation, Ted. We’re going to use a little under one percent of our annual counter drug budget on these advertisements. We’re going to get about an equal amount of free access time. By the way, I share Mr Butterworth’s concern. We clearly have to be on target with ethically sound messages that young people relate to and that means middle school students.

TED KOPPEL I don’t know if you’ve ever written a book. One of the most frustrating things that can happen to you when you write a book is it’s out there, you get advertising out there, you go on tour, you promote your book then you go to the bookstore and it’s not there.


TED KOPPEL And what I’m getting at, of course, is if you run an advertising campaign and you finally convince kids it’s time to do something and then there isn’t any place to go or there isn’t anyplace to turn to, it’s wasted effort.

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY Yeah. Well, remember, this is prevention. This isn’t treatment. We, what I tell people is it’s going to cost us about $3 a head probably to run this campaign. An addicted adolescent will cost you and I as taxpayers a couple of million dollars over their lifetime. So we’re persuaded, first of all, that 80 percent of our children have never touched an illegal drug. The problem is in those middle school years they start being exposed to it. By the time they’re high school seniors, probably one out of four are regularly using some form of illegal drug, past month use. So we’ve got to cut it down. We’re persuaded this can be another important component of that message.

TED KOPPEL Have there been, Mr Butterworth, any serious studies on campaigns that try to convince kids not to do something?

ROBERT BUTTERWORTH Well, let’s look at the studies in the last year. Studies have been showing that drug use among teenagers have doubled. Remember, let’s look at where these teenagers were. In the 1980s, these teenagers were in the first and second grade, those two grades that were focused during the Reagan campaign on Just Say No. Advertising, lectures in schools, they were bombarded early grades, Just Say No. These are the kids that are doing drugs. Are we going to do the same thing again?

TED KOPPEL And what are you concluding from that, that it didn’t work then? Because I mean I’ve talked to Jim Burke also and he swears that those PSAs, those public service announcements did a lot and that you can actually track that drug use went down while that campaign was in full swing and he says one reason it’s gone up is that the campaign stopped.

ROBERT BUTTERWORTH Yeah, but we were focusing in those early years on the first and second graders and these are the people now that are using drugs and the federal surveys are showing that the rate has doubled. So what happened? It may be it got in their brain a little bit but when their peers came up, it didn’t seem to work. The military knows what to do. They’re doing it. They’re using drug testing. It’s a terrible thing, but it’s fear. Unfortunately, that’s what the teenagers need.

TED KOPPEL Is that politically viable, general?

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY Well, look, at the end of the day I tell people, the young people in the armed forces who were probably a third of them using drugs in the 70s, today are down to one or two percent rates. Those are the same young people that are out here in the streets of Atlanta and Los Angeles tonight. What we did was articulate a standard and mentor them and create opportunities. So I also agree basically with, again, Dr Butterworth’s concern, but this is not just advertising. This is talking to our parents, our coalition leaders in communities. That’s the sales force that has got to make this message viable.

TED KOPPEL We’re going to take a short break right now. When we come back, I have a couple of questions I want to put to Stuart Elliott on the effectiveness of these ads. All of us are going to see some of them for the first time tonight, you’ve seen a lot of them, I want to hear what you think about them. One last question, when we come back.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL Stuart Elliott writes about the advertising industry for the New York Times. Mr Elliott, you’ve seen the ads. What do you think?

STUART ELLIOTT Well, I think that one of the big issues, again, as it is in a lot of cases, is whether a bunch of upper middle class white people on Madison Avenue can really tap into the concerns and the vernacular of the intended target audience and really get to them to address them on this issue.

TED KOPPEL Well, you raised the question. You clearly have an answer. You’ve seen them. What do you think?

STUART ELLIOTT Well, I think some of them, they vary very widely in effectiveness and in interest. I think, you know, the original commercial that everybody talks about, this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs, that was a very powerful commercial early on and, you know, several years after it began running, it became the punch line for jokes where kids would wear T—shirts that mocked it. Now there’s going to be an updated version where the, it’s not an egg that’s being demolished this time, it’s an entire kitchen. What happens three years from now? Do we have a woman sitting behind a wrecking ball tearing down a whole house?

TED KOPPEL General McCaffrey, we have a few seconds left and I know that these ads are targeted at different regions of the country.


TED KOPPEL And I assume also targeted for urban areas and rural areas. Why did you do that?

GEN BARRY MCCAFFREY Well, I think the hard work’s coming up in the year to come. They’ll be in Spanish language. We’re going to try and make the message relevant to one of 75 media markets. So it has to be a message that resonated with people like me, whether it’s Native American, Hispanic in the Los Angeles basin, Hawaii or whatever. We can do that. We can also vary the tools we’re using. This is not just national TV, it’s local radio. And we can also use spokespeople who sound and who can communicate with the target audience. So four times a week, 90 percent market penetration, prime time access with relevant, scientifically based information. That’s what we’re going to try and do.

TED KOPPEL Well, there does seem to be unanimity on one thing, I’m sure everybody wishes you well and let’s hope that it works.


TED KOPPEL General McCaffrey, thanks very much. Mr Elliott, Mr Butterworth, good of you to join us.

That’s our report for tonight. Tomorrow on Nightline, they were successful physicians and nurses who quit their jobs to help the homeless. Street doctors, our Nightline Friday night special, tomorrow. I’m Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABCNEWS, good night.