Report Urges Rethinking Of Anti-Drug Messages

Public service advertising campaigns should employ the slick lifestyle tactics and sophisticated marketing research techniques of private-sector advertising agencies to turn teenagers away from drug and alcohol abuse, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study soon to be released.

Co-written by Dr. Jay A. Winsten, Director of the Center for Health Communication at the School of Public Health, and Dr. William DeJong, Director of Research at the Center, the report says that anti-drug advertisers should stress the positive lifestyle that accompanies a drug-free existence.

Just as cigarette and alcohol ads make people believe that their product will give them a vibrant and exciting life, anti-substance-use ads can be just as powerful in encouraging health promoting behavior, the study argues.

Active Lifestyles

"Substance abuse prevention campaigns should explore the use of 'image' or 'lifestyle' advertising to promote an active, healthy lifestyle that excludes substance use," the report reads. "Anti-smoking appeals directed at pre-teens and adolescents also need to use 'image' advertising. One strategy...is to present a mythical character with whom this group can identify, a character who demonstrates his power and independence by choosing not to smoke."

Until now, abuse prevention campaigns have used scare tactics in the form of stark, shocking images such as that of a woman holding a gun to her nostril, over the caption, "COCAINE."

The report, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Commonwealth Fund, the Exxon Corporation and the Helena Rubenstein Foundation, is entitled "Recommendations for Future Mass Media Campaigns to Prevent Preteen and Adolescent Substance Abuse."

The report also evaluates and makes recommendations on educational efforts in schools and in the homes of adolescents.

"Public service campaigns," said Winsten, "have consisted of public service announcements run at the discretion of broadcasters," usually in the middle of the night.

In response to some of Winsten's earlier work the producers of television programs such as Cheers, Falcon Crest and The Cosby Show have inserted comments stressing the importance of using designated drivlipsticked kisses.

show on drunk driving. The goal of such efforts is "to reflect the evolution of a new social norm...[and] by reflecting those changes they will be adding momentum to those changes," Winsten said.

Some public interest groups said they are satisfied with the media's current efforts to discourage substance abuse.

Tammy Weddel, of the Public Affairs Department of the National Office for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in Hurst, Texas, a lobbyist group against drunk driving, said MADD is "very pleased overall with the broadcasting industry in promoting the anti-drunk driving message." She added that "public awareness has improved overall in the last decade."

Another example of a successful public advertising campaign was a Dallas television program called, Texas Crackdown, said Fred LaSor, a spokesperson for the Public Affairs Office of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Organized by a private producer and run on all local TV stations, the two-hour program featured personal stories, along with with the phone numbers of law enforcement and treatment programs.