NY Firm is Redrafted for Youth Drug Prevention Ad Campaign

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New York-based communications firm Draftfcb has been awarded a new contract to continue leading the “Above the Influence” anti-drug campaign, a major initiative of the federal National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign that critics say has had little impact on youths' attitudes toward drugs.

Draftfcb – a global communications agency – started work with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in 2004 on the "Above the Influence" campaign, which launched in 2005.

The firm will continue to oversee the campaign's strategic direction, run its website (www.abovetheinfluence.com) and expand into interactive social media efforts, according to a news release announcing the new contract. An ONDCP spokesman said the firm received about $32 million in first-year funding for advertising and media buying services. The full amount of the contract will depend on ONDCP's annual appropriations, the office said.

Bill Piper, director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance and a long-time critic of the ONDCP advertising program, said the "Above the Influence" campaign ads "were meant to kind of tone things down a little bit," compared with some of the ads produced during the Bush administration, which he argued "were really over the top." (One infamous ad campaign said that recreational drug users were aiding terrorists.)

But Piper said evidence consistently shows that the media campaign overall has had little impact on youth drug use and abuse. A 2005 Westat evaluation, for instance, found the campaign's influence on youth drug abuse to be negligible.

A review of the Westat study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) backed up the findings, prompting the GAO to recommend that Congress consider "limiting" the campaign's funding.

Several evaluations of the campaign funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have arrived at similar conclusions, Piper said.

Yet the program has lived on, albeit with decreased funding in recent years. Congress authorized the media campaign in 1998 and provided annual appropriations that to date have totaled more than $1.5 billion. The program was cut from $100 million in fiscal 2007 to $45 million in fiscal 2010.

But President Barack Obama has asked Congress to boost it by $21.5 million in fiscal 2011 to $66.5 million.

"I think no one wants to be the person that is responsible for eliminating ads that tell teens not to do drugs," Piper said.