Doing good, and doing it well.
Some of the most memorable taglines ever written "Take a bite out of crime," "This is your brain on drugs," "A mind is a terrible thing to waste"-have anchored cause-marketing campaigns. The work is not only dramatic and arresting, but the impact on the viewer is memorable. And unlike most marketing, which seeks to change purchasing patterns, cause marketing serves a larger societal goal: changing personal behavior or public policy.
In The Art of Cause Marketing, author Richard Earle-a 30-year ad veteran who worked on the "Crying Indian" spots for the Keep America Beautiful campaign and was most recently evp, group creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York-details key strategies used in cause-marketing advertising. He includes everything from how to research, test and measure the success of a cause ad to in-depth case studies of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program.
Whether the effort is to enlighten the public about the dangers of smoking or AIDS, Earle cites his top 10 list of the best cause-marketing campaigns and why they worked. He also urges agencies to employ their best and brightest when pitching a cause account.
In addition, Earle warns that it is critical to analyze and research the psychology of the target audience. Only when the principal idea and the desired action are married will the campaign be effective. Remember: Quality PSA work can have a long shelf life. Similarly, PSA debacles, such as the "Just say no" anti-drug campaign, can haunt an agency for years.
The following is from "The Art of Cause Marketing: How to Use Advertising to C hange Personal Behavior and Public Policy" by Richard Earle (2000), published by NTC Business Books. To order a copy of this book, call (800) 323-4900; fax (800) 998-3103; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 9: The Partnership for a Drug-Free America (Excerpt)
The Cause Colossus
The best-funded and most widely seen cause campaign in the United States, and possibly the world, is the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. I remember its roots very well. As creative director on one of its predecessors, the National Institute of Mental Health campaign, I was invited to lunch with Dick O'Reilly, who was planning the Partnership. He was looking for advice. Quite simply, based upon my very difficult and unsatisfying experience with a similar campaign, I advised him not to do it.Sadly, I never saw him again. Dick wisely ignored my advice and collaborated with Phillip Joanou, a board member of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, to create the Partnership with a grant from the 4As. A short time later, Dick reluctantly went on a white-water rafting junket sponsored by a Midwestern agency, seeking to recruit board members for his cause. The junket went terribly sour, resulting in the drowning deaths of eight top marketing and advertising executives, among them, a former client of mine and an account executive I knew quite well at Compton. Also killed was Dick O'Reilly.
The tragically dropped flag was eventually picked up. I was encouraged to read that a man I admired greatly, James Burke, retired chairman of Johnson & Johnson, had agreed to head the Partnership.
James Burke and Tylenol
Burke and I had a brief but charged association when I wrote and supervised the Tylenol advertising that helped lead to the recovery of that brand from two frightening product-tampering incidents. Burke personally took charge of the effort, and I felt his decisions were always courageous and wise. I clearly remember sitting in his office after the second incident with a small group from the agency as he pushed a handful of strange-looking capsules toward us.
"This is the best tamper-proof capsule my people can come up with," he said. Some of the capsules had ugly brown sears where attempts had been made at heat-sealing them. "I can't be 100 percent sure with any of these modifications that our product won't be used to kill more people. So gentlemen, unless we can do better, we may have to go out of the capsule business!"
And he did it shortly thereafter. At the time of the tampering incidents, Tylenol capsules were the largest-selling and most profitable Johnson & Johnson product. J&J took a $100 million pre-tax write-off against Tylenol losses in 1982, the year of the first tampering incident.
Framed on a wall in Burke's J&J office was a corporate credo, the original principles of which were set down by the son of one of the founders of the pharmaceutical giant, Robert Wood Johnson. It stated in clear terms that, although the company was dedicated to returning profits to its shareholders, the well-being of its customers would come first, above everything else. Burke, who had updated it in a series of executive meetings, practiced the principles of that credo every day of his tenure at J&J, and made sure all his associates did as well.
I wrote a commercial within twenty-four hours of the first Tylenol tampering news report. but Burke insisted on holding it until some massive research indicated that the public was waiting for a message from the company Halloween was coming up, and he was concerned about provoking copycat killings. He also didn't want to "fling down the gauntlet" to whomever had done this.
He had some support from the greater marketing community Professor Lipstein of the NYU School of Business was quoted in the press as saying, "The only thing they can do is withhold advertising and reduce public awareness. If they could hide under a rock and hope it all goes away, they would."
Advertising pundit Jerry Della Femina said ominously "A flat prediction I'll make is that you'll not see the name Tylenol in any form within a year."
We at the agency argued that the incident was heavily in the news anyway, and that the public was waiting to hear from the company in their own words. I agreed to eliminate any inflammatory language (an earlier version had said things like, "this insane act damages all of us."). Our qualitative research, directed by Compton researcher Maria Falconetti, showed respondents a rough taping of the spot I had written for J&J medical director Thomas Gates. We asked research respondents if they thought it appropriate for the company to pay for airtime to run this kind of announcement. Mr. Burke was deeply concerned about "selling too much." The results produced remarkably strong numbers, particularly in the "intent to purchase" response. Even 85 percent said it was entirely appropriate to buy time for this message, a number Maria called "extraordinary" So we ran the spot and some print, and the recovery was also "extraordinary."
Within a year of the first incident, Tylenol's share of the analgesic market, which had dropped to 18 percent, had recovered to 28 percent. This recovery was guided by a strong man who cared more about the well-being of his consumers than the bottom line, and did the appropriate research to be sure he was right before he aired any advertising. Part of what the research told us was that the brand had a very positive image. Our advertising and J&J's reputation had created a situation where we held the consumer's trust. As one research respondent put it, "If a terrorist puts a bomb in your Ford and it blows up, you don't stop buying Fords!"
In a strange way, the Tylenol campaign became a cause campaign. And in my view, this boded well for the Partnership under Burke's stewardship, even though I still had concerns about the possibility of the group making serious mistakes due to the size and complexity of its undertaking.
Burke was elected chairman of the Partnership in the spring of 1989. He inherited a three-year-old consortium that had, despite limited funding, produced more than thirty TV commercials, sixty-four print ads, and fourteen radio messages, all of them produced pro bono by top agencies, and widely exposed in airtime that had been willingly donated by all three major broadcast networks and a number of cable networks.
At the time he accepted the position, Burke said his Tylenol experience allowed him to talk to the media in ways others couldn't because he had the media's trust. I can attest to that. Burke's open-door policy with the press, in which he provided complete access and virtually total disclosure of every step taken to deal with the crisis, has become a classic Harvard Business School case study (Unfortunately, his example was sadly ignored in subsequent corporate disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.)
Early Partnership Spots
A few of the Partnership's early spots, produced before Burke's arrival, were examples of the kind of thing I feared the Partnership would attempt when I had that lunch with Dick O'Reilly One was the spot called "The Burbs," with its toking teens, which was discussed in the Introduction.
There were also some very positive efforts among those thirty spots. Several attempted to dramatize the didi in which some of their peers held the pot smokers. That drug was properly separated out and specified, and its use was realistically portrayed. One spot, although it did portray a nonspecific "all drugs" analogy, showing a young woman diving into an empty swimming pool, had the plus of appealing to the "tempted to experiment" teen in a fairly honest fashion.
Enter the White House
In 1998, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy announced it would provide $195 million annually to buy media for an anti-drug campaign, and the task of creating that advertising was awarded to the Partnership. Due to the aforementioned shrinkage of PSA availabilities, the Partnership needed government dollars to buy media placement. The trade-off was that the political policymakers would henceforth play a stronger role in the Partnership's efforts. It should be noted here that the Partnership receives no government money for its role in supervising the campaign.
Having experienced firsthand James Burke's respect for consumer research, I was also curious about that aspect of this well-funded effort. Thanks to a former colleague, Barbara Feigen, research director at Grey Advertising, I was put in touch with Jaqueline Silver, who was a Partnership research consultant for several years.
Candid, funny, and smart, Jackie has been involved with cause research probably longer than anyone in the field. She told me she was present at the birth of the Ad Council's "Just say no!" spots. (She urged them to add "Just" to take the edge off the finger-shaking tone of the originally proposed: "Say no.") She also confirmed that the campaign had indeed originally been targeted to 10-year-olds and under.
When the Partnership was founded, Jackie was asked to work with them, and was part of the committee that decided early on that the only possible approach to a cause problem as vast and multifaceted as drug abuse was to adopt the McDonald's strategy of providing many different messages for many different people.
Burke insisted on extensive research, and the Partnership produced a massive national projectable probability study.
The research provided the organization with the crucial insight that, when it came to drugs, parents were still the most trusted source of information. Thousands of kids and their parents were interviewed, separately Most of the parents assumed the principal influence on the kids in the areas of drugs (and other destructive or risky behavior) was other kids, peers, and the media. The kids said they would most likely listen to parents and grandparents. Almost all the parents interviewed were astonished when confronted with this.
There was also a large disconnect between kids, who reported their parents rarely spoke to them about drug abuse, and parents, who claimed to have discussed it a lot. Thus was born the "Talk to Your Kids" campaign, an effort in which I strongly believe. The theory is similar to one we applied to a campaign for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling: if you try to materially change the attitude of the user or even the contemplator in your advertising, you may fail, but it's quite likely that you can successfully appeal to the family or a loved one to intervene.
Let's examine three of the recent "Talk to Your Kids" spots. The first, called "Girl/Interview," is excellent because it meets people where they are; it reflects the real world of viewers. The kid is great. Also, to make a point, she is very young but extremely bright. It is obvious, however, that her caring parents have omitted the subject of drugs from their otherwise comprehensive cautionary discussions with her. The next two, "Any Way You Can Talk" and "Carroll O'Connor" are, in my opinion, less effective: the first because it seems to ridicule parents, the very people you want to reinforce, and the second because of its rough, punitive tone.
Since I assume all these were written to the same strategy, I wonder what the tone and style section contained, or, if they were written to a creative brief, w hether any such section was even included. If that section contained language like "real, empathetic," as the first spot clearly is, then the other two could not have been properly written to it. The "hip-hop Pop" of the "Any Way You Can Talk" ad would have to have been specified "humorous, ironic," and the O'Connor spot would have to have included "tough, hard-hitting," or something similar. It is obvious that the humorous spot was just meant to be intrusive, in the hope that laughing at the inept parents portrayed would help viewing parents feel more confident ("I couldn't do any worse than that!"). My reaction is that of the older brother in the commercial who shakes his head in disbelief. I am also puzzled as to why at a time when the unfairness of drug laws is under public attack, the only real fact presented to the kid is that marijuana can "lead to prison."
Research consultant Jackie Silver disagrees with my negative assessment that the Carroll O'Connor spot was too punitive. Based on her analysis of responses from many teens, Jackie believes that, deep down, kids welcome a strong intervention. "I wish my parents had done that," was a common response. Whatever parents do to get involved, Jackie says, is better than no intervention at all. The Partnership's Steve Dnistrian strongly concurs, saying that spot has gotten a lot of positive response from parents. That acknowledged, I still feel that the compassionate, real tone of the "Girl/Interview" spot is much better.
These three presumably strategically linked spots constitute a good example of the importance of tone and style, and how ignoring or leaving out that consideration can make a key difference to a cause effort. As impactful as they are, the second two may be much less effective because they strike an off-putting tone for parents-- their target audience. If research showed that only a small minority of parents reacted negatively, then the spot should run. If, however, a more significant number reacted that way then it should be re-thought. Because of the strong performance by O'Connor, this is a perfect example of good advertising for a bad "product" (a strategy that has an off-putting-or no-tone and style section).
Jackie Silver reports that when drug use in society at large began trending down, the Partnership was asked to mount a massive inner-city effort as a Phase II research project. It was carried out in New York City, and then replicated in other urban areas like Chicago and Los Angeles.
This Phase II research provided Goodby, Silverstein & Partners with a brief to do what is arguably one of the best cause spots ever produced. The advertising community awarded it and one other Partnership spot the Grand Effie in 1994 as the most effective ad campaign in America. It showed an African American boy cutting through some back lots on his way home from school, mainly, we learn as the spot unfolds, to avoid the dealers on the corner. Included in the voice-over, narrated in the kid's voice, were these thoughts: "My teacher tells us `just say no'. Policeman says the same thing. They should walk home through here. 'Cause the dealers don't take `no' for an answer." The voice-over (now in the voice of a strong, kindly mentor) adds: "To Kevin Scott and all the other kids who take the long way home. We hear you. Don't give up!"
Since I was not the target for this ad and hadn't seen any of the research, my mistaken assessment upon first seeing it was that it seemed simply to say "go out of your way so you don't have to just say no!" I did feel it scored high on the "first do no harm" scale, but I completely missed its strategic and especially its tonal brilliance.
It turns out that this approach was precisely what the massive inner city quantitative study showed was needed. Going into the study, Jackie Silver admits her staff also started from a mistaken assumption: that inner-city dealers, with their jewelry, cars, and girls, were largely viewed by neighborhood kids as glamorous figures, "Robin Hoods of the 'hood" if you will!
As it turned out (despite the research team's pre-survey assumptions), although some kids still viewed drug dealers as peers who might even be a source of employment as runners and lookouts for the younger ones, a surprising number were very leery of the dealers. They would go out of their way to avoid them, but were afraid that they would be viewed as uncool or cowards by their peers. Viewed from this perspective, "Long Way Home," which is quiet, supportive, and inspirational, is perfectly targeted. It makes a hero of the young non-user, and helps create and reinforce good feelings about avoiding drugs. It is precisely in line with the principle articulated in the previous chapter, namely that "it recognizes the situation as it exists, and gives encouragement ... rather than telling people how they should behave."
Recently, the Partnership produced a return of the "This is your brain on drugs" spot. The reaction to the original spot has always been somewhat mixed. Some young people think it's cool. Others put it in the same category with "Just say no!" Satiric T shirts have appeared on the street emblazoned with the phrase, along with some hip "R. Crumbish" artwork of a freaked-out brain.
The advertising press obviously thinks it was an outstanding spot. Entertainment Weekly listed it as one of the ten best commercials of all time, and a group of industry executives selected it as one of the fifty best commercials ever for TV Guide (along with the "Crying Indian," one of only two cause commercials selected).
The basic problem I have with it, and I'm certain it's largely due to the pressures applied to the campaign by its government and "establishment" backers, is the same one I faced years ago doing an antidrug campaign for the National Institute of Mental Health. The government position at that point was that all drugs are equal and equally dangerous. In other words, "all drugs will fry your brain. Period."
I'm certain some still consider that an appropriate stance. But an anti-drug message won't resonate with teens if it is expressed as "all drugs are equally dangerous." Like it or not, every high school kid will tell you they have classmates who regularly smoke pot and are high-functioning, productive students. They may be heroes of the football team or officers on the student council, and they use pot, a "drug" and their brains certainly aren't "fried." Here again, a deft and admittedly very strong analogy obscured what might have been a truthful portrayal of the dangers of specific drugs. So once again, some kids could convince themselves that the establishment didn't have a clue!
Jackie Silver disagrees with my position. She feels it was a great spot for its time, perhaps one of the best anti-drug messages ever. "Remember," she says, "at the time it was done, there was a high usage of drugs. Indiscriminate use of all drugs. Kids wandering the street, stoned out of their minds!" She's not so sure, however, that producing the return was a good idea. Today, she points out, kids know a lot more, and the drugs should be segmented out.
Partnership PR Director Steve Dnistrian assured me that the group has become very aware of the need to segment the different drugs. So in that respect, the return of "This Is Your Brain," produced and aired by the now government-funded Partnership in 1999, has taken a positive step in addressing this specificity issue by identifying the dangerous activity as "snorting heroin."
The casting is great, the young woman is cool. But she then proceeds to smash up her whole kitchen, symbolizing, apparently, the destruction of family and home that can follow the drug abuse. However, heroin, although certainly carrying the risk of debilitating addiction, delivers a relatively soporific high. To have the spokesperson behaving violently, like a crackhead or an amphetamine user, may send a very mixed and apparently uninformed message.
When I mentioned the spot to Dr. Shaffer, he said he had assumed it was about snorting cocaine. When I pointed out that it was for heroin, he said, simply, "That's a mistake." Even Jackie, who was not involved with that spot, told me she thought it was an anti-coke commercial. Here again, a detailed discussion of the tone and style strategy section, in which "violent and intrusive" (which seems to be the tone of the spot) might have been examined and discarded as wrong for the drug in question, could have helped this.
This ad is an instructive reinforcement of the overriding power of tone and style. Even though the woman says "heroin" twice in the spot, Dr. Shaffer, Jackie Silver, and I all assumed after a few exposures to the commercial that it was for cocaine. Three fairly sophisticated "insiders" made the wrong assumption, based on the violent tone and imagery I must assume many of the kids it was targeting made the same mistake. And then, once they realized heroin was the subject, they would have been puzzled or turned off. Quite often in a cause commercial it's not what you say, but how you say it that is retained.
Should a possible problem with this concept have been flagged in the Partnership's massive research effort? Probably. Maybe it was simply a matter of not asking the right question. In fairness, I should mention that I showed this spot recently while speaking to a group of college students, and the majority thought it quite effective. They all caught the heroin mention, and felt the "smashing up the family" analogy was okay, and that the sultry portrayal of the young girl was consistent with "someone some heroin users might be hanging around with."
The increase of pot use continues to be the most daunting problem for the Partnership's client body, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Despite overall drug-use decline, youthful use and tolerance of marijuana continues to rise, with Partnership tracking studies indicating that teen reporting of "widespread use" was up from 46 percent in 1993 to 59 percent in 1996.
Dr. Lloyd Johnson of the University of Michigan, a man Jackie Silver describes as the principal drug-use researcher in the world (he has been gathering massive amounts of data since 1979), concluded in the June 1998 American Journal of Public Health that lifestyle factors alone can't account for the recent changes in marijuana use. He and his colleagues, Gerald Bachman and Patrick M. O'Malley, did a detailed analysis of data from a large annual nationwide survey of high school seniors by the Institute of Social Research, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They concluded that attitudes about specific drugs, as well as the perceived risks and social disapproval of use, are among the most important determinants of actual use, and that young people do pay attention to information about the risks and consequences of drug use when it is presented in a realistic and credible fashion.
In response to this data, the Partnership has wisely mounted a large, segmented anti-pot campaign, which I feel is much more in tune with targeted kids than any previous effort on marijuana. In addition to making it very clear that the Partnership has segmented the effort, the best thing is that the ads portray kids and their thoughts and anxieties very realistically and credibly I assume this came right out of the research. One of these spots, "Cafeteria," uses a research finding similar to one we jumped on in Massachusetts for one of our anti-smoking efforts: that most kids assume a lot more of their peers are using the drug than actually are. Revealing this can be an extremely simple yet powerful tool for kids to use in resisting peer pressure to smoke pot. The preteen spot ends with "Maybe we're not as different as we think." And one aimed at teens concludes, "The average kid thinks everybody smokes it, but the average kid doesn't" over a title that says "4 out of 5 kids don't smoke pot." It's reverse peer pressure, pure and simple.
Another spot, called "Moment of Truth" is a'90s answer to "Just say no!" and I think it's quite successful. Derived from research into the thought processes of kids, it dramatizes what many of them are really going through. The tone of this spot, although light, is just fine. In a much more realistic way than in the past, it helps arm kids for their "moment of truth." It recognizes the reality of teen pot use, obliquely references the fact that it's not as widespread as they might think (many of the kids in the spot are on the contemplating kid's side), and the end line, "Don't want to, don't have to," is a very nice unslogany slogan.
Less successful is a series of testimonial "talking heads." The "beautiful child" may see the speakers as losers whose experiences don't apply to them. An exception is a spot called "April," in which a teen's low-key, dead-on testimony should ring true with its target, other female teens.
The most successful spots in this anti-pot campaign continue to be those that, to use Howard Shaffer's language, "meet people where they are and take them to where they may not want to be, rather than telling them where they should be."
Once again in 1999, the trend seemed to be reversing itself, with trial use declining from 44 percent in 1997 to 41 percent, while awareness of the advertising increased by 41 percent.
Aging Rockers and Rising Stars
The Partnership, in association with the Musicians' Assistance Program, a music industry group, has recently produced a series of commercials using rock musicians as celebrity presenters.
It should be obvious from earlier remarks that I would be dubious about the credibility of this approach, because of the point of view I heard expressed so many times in focus groups ("If you pay them enough, they'll say anything") and the real danger that one of your stars could be involved in a public drug bust.
Several of the spots (most are shot by music-video directors, and the MTV style pervades the pool) are effective. I admit having to rely on the expertise of my daughter Carol Burnham, a music industry publicist, and her husband Hugo Burnham, a former member of a popular rock group who now manages young bands, for help in identifying the personnel in these spots. They also offered opinions as to their relevance and credibility among the teen record-buying public.
We all found least effective a spot with aging members of Kiss, in makeup, intercut with vital performance shots. Under all that face paint they look pretty healthy. When one member confesses taking "everything" and declares "drugs are no way to go," I can hear the kids shouting, "Oh sure! You're still doing great. Maybe I can take everything and slide, too!" This "confessional" by an aging but wealthy group runs the risk of being greeted with scorn by kids. But once again, Steve Dnistrian disagrees, insisting fans know Kiss lost millions while its members were struggling with drug addiction.
I was moved by the testimony of Troy Nowell, widow of Brad Nowell of the group Sublime. She's a very young and attractive mother, and their son Jake, whom she is holding in her lap singing little nursery rhymes, is adorable. Heroin killed the father, and the effect is very moving. Both Carol and Hugo said Brad's tragic death was well-known to kids and the spot would probably have some resonance. However, both also felt that the didactic "Heroin kills!" statement hurt the otherwise credible tone.
They judged the spot with Lauryn Hill to be best. She seems very sincere, and the spot and the low-key copy project an image of her as a credible positive role model. The spot becomes particularly intrusive since her sweep of the 1999 Grammy Awards. She is now a bona fide superstar and, from what I can gather from my "experts," unlikely to fall from grace. "Stay positive" is her credo, both in her work and in her life, and her role model status probably lets her effectively break the "no celebrity" rule.
As important influences on teen attitudes and opinion, the Musicians' Assistance Program undoubtedly felt this series of spots could help burnish the industry's image, and several of the commercials probably resonate quite strongly with the teen target. However, I continue to believe there's a real risk with these "clean and functioning" spokespersons. The minute one of them has a widely publicized fall from grace, and the odds are that it can happen, then the kids will feel they've been conned by the establishment one more time.
If I had that lunch today with Dick O'Reilly would I still tell him not to start the Partnership? No. Certainly, the statistics which the Partnership has published are impressive. Cocaine use is down 77 percent, and there's an overall 48 percent decline in drug use since the Partnership first went on the air. It is an historic decline, and the Partnership can probably also claim credit for a part of the similar decline in crime.
Even teen drug use seems to have turned around. In a statement released by the University of Michigan in December 1998, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues reported that the troublesome trends seem to be reversing. Fewer eighth, tenth, and eleventh graders report using any illicit drugs, including alcohol. A 1992 study funded by Johns Hopkins University concluded that, even during a time of rising drug use, advertising had a deterrent impact on 75 percent of viewers who had not used drugs as well as many who had.
Jackie Silver believes this research also clearly shows that the decline is related to attitude changes among the young. "It's proof," she says, "that cause marketing can change attitudes."
Drug use is cyclical. As is smoking among the young. When the numbers are down, the various cause campaigns addressing that use will, understandably, claim credit. Declines in drug use can also be attributed in part to the opposing forces of incarceration and treatment. Since treatment, tragically in the view of Michael Massing, has been declining due to reduced funding, the incarceration route is clearly the ruling one. Whether an equivalent emphasis on treatment would have produced a similar or greater decline is hard to say It certainly would have produced more rehabilitated citizens, as opposed to the damaged and bitter individuals the prison system is releasing. And, as part of another cyclical change, Jackie points out that treatment is coming back into favor, particularly within prison populations.
But to keep the trend curving down, the tendency to experiment must be addressed; here again, the Partnership must try to reach the younger kids. In fact, despite the decline in total drug-use numbers, use among teens was up again in the early '90s, about the time the Partnership campaign presence was reduced by declining PSA availabilities. As Steve Dnistrian points out, the media campaign is only 1 percent of what the government spends on all those prisons, interdictions, and yes, treatment ($17 billion). If a well-funded media campaign could reach young kids early, maybe they wouldn't need so much money for the rest (prisons, treatment, etc.).
I continue to believe the most significant discovery in the massive research applied against this segment by the Partnership is the relevance of parental mentoring. And this, combined with more sensitive and truthful spots aimed at the young, constitutes my best hope to "inoculate" the next generation of teens, and turn the curve down again.
Review by Committee
Creative work for the Partnership is done on a volunteer basis by a number of agencies. It is coordinated by an in-house creative-- account team, and is reviewed on a regular basis by "a committee of the top creative directors in the business." About two-thirds of the messages submitted to the committee are rejected. Partnership executives say the committee combines the talent and energy of creative experts with varied backgrounds and philosophies to finally reach a consensus.
All of this sounds very good. But its very size and grandeur may create some problems for the Partnership. This is an ego-heavy group. They are all very busy at their own agencies saving accounts or trying to reverse downward market-share trends on their top brands.
This is not meant to imply that any of them would intentionally slough off a responsibility as important as this. But you are not going to get the concentration you would in a normal tightly held agency process. And you are not going to have the agony and introspection that this thorny subject may require. Jackie Silver, who has not been involved with the Partnership for a while, said she felt the strategies were becoming more and more general and open to interpretation.
In the last six years of playing a client role as a consultant to various government agencies, I have had the occasion many times to walk into a conference room and judge a lot of advertising. After many years as an agency creative director, I think my copy instincts are pretty well honed, and I can usually quickly pick out the best-constructed pieces of work. But the crucial choices were based on hard study of the strategies and the research that led to them. A charming, brilliantly written spot with dynamite visuals may still be dead wrong for the complex targets and objectives of a cause campaign.
The Partnership's blue-ribbon panel will certainly only approve copy that is well constructed. But it may not always approve the work that is best for the cause.
Overall, the quality of the individual Partnership ads continues to improve. So whatever difficulties may be imposed by the size and scope of the operation and its need to serve many constituencies, the Partnership does seem to be fulfilling its original mandate.
Jackie Silver grants that, due to the size and scope and variety of opinions contributing to the production of hundreds of pieces of advertising, it should be expected some mistakes will be made.
"But if we can change one kid's attitude about drugs, even though we make mistakes with some commercials, then it's all worth it," she says passionately. I can't fault that. I can only fervently hope that as more learning is achieved, the number of mistakes can be lessened. I'm told they have produced over 600 units of advertising. So the box score is pretty favorable.
Fortunately, theirs is a degree of complexity the average cause account does not face. And the other side of the coin is that there are massive resources available to the Partnership when it comes to research and media exposure, and it does possess the clout of a government effort when it comes to opening any and all doors.
In late 1999, the Partnership went in a surprising and very positive direction by producing a totally integrated TV, print, and website campaign on the "parent as mentor" strategy called "The Antidrug." Possessing a very contemporary look and feel that seems designed to appeal to parents who lived through the '70s, the campaign uses intriguing symbols and very contemporary language. An example: "the most effective deterrent to drug use among kids isn't the police or prison or politicians-it's you. It's Truth, Honesty, Love, Communication."
The look, feel, and sound of the effort is the same across all the media, which is, in my opinion, a good thing. The print and TV ads lead to an excellently designed website (www.theantidrug.com) where clicking on the appropriate symbols (Truth or Love, etc.) reveals some very adroitly phrased capsules of advice. A parenting brochure can be ordered or downloaded, and parents are led by the hand into starting a rational dialogue with their kids in a fresh, non-threatening way.
The campaign is unified, smart, and I believe should be very successful. It is interesting to note that the campaign sponsor is listed as the Office of National Drug Control Policy, although the Partnership website can be reached through a link. I sincerely hope that this is the first of many new and mature media ventures by the Partnership and the ONDCP.
It will require the wisdom of a Solomon to keep this effort on track, and if anyone can pull it off, it is James Burke. While I may quibble over a few individual executions, it is remarkable that so much of it has come out well.