Group Discusses Drug Ad Problems
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP)--The group that produces most of the White House's anti-drug ads said Wednesday it warned of problems in the government's $180 million ad campaign back in 1990, but its concerns were not heeded.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America responded to a survey that found no evidence the ad campaign has reduced teen drug use.  President Bush's top drug policy adviser, John Walters, has warned the program will end if it is not improved.

Steve Pasierb, the group's executive director, said the ad campaign was working well until two years ago. It bogged down in government bureaucracy, spending on advertising dropped and producers were told to make ads that were too subtle to have an impact.

"It was working. They changed it. It ain't working. Gee, I wonder why,'' he said.

The group is a nonprofit coalition of media professionals who have donated most of the ads used in the campaign.

In an Oct. 2, 2000, letter to former drug policy director Barry McCaffrey, the group said that while the advertising campaign has slowed preteen marijuana use, "it has been less effective with older teens, either in reducing marijuana use or in driving down use of other dangerous drugs.''

It said the campaign was providing too many messages in too short a time to be effective.  It also said the office was constantly reducing the portion of its $180 million media budget used to buy air time.

Tom Riley, a spokesman for Walters, said he was not familiar with the letter. Walters took office last December.

Robert Weiner, who was McCaffrey's spokesman, said he had been aware of the group's concerns and believed some had been addressed. He said the problems were not so severe that they would justify ending the ad campaign.

"You get enormous bang for the buck with the media campaign,'' he said.

Both Weiner and Pasierb said studies have shown that the media campaign was successful in its early years in encouraging teens not to use drugs.

But Riley said the new study, by the private research firm Westat and the University of Pennsylvania, is the most comprehensive ever in examining the ad campaign's overall effectiveness.

Regarding the group's criticisms, Riley said government work will inevitably be more bureaucratic than what advertising people are used to in the private sector. Of the decreased purchase of air time, he said money has been used for other media, such as brochures and the Internet, to convey the anti-drug message.

He also said the office was no longer taking a subtle tone in its anti-drug messages, noting the only media campaign launched by Walters has been a series of ads linking drugs to terrorism.


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