From news reports, we know there is a drug epidemic in the United States. And around the world. With that in mind, we study how anti-drug advertising has evolved. In addition, we consider the effectiveness of these ads.

When firms give back to their communities, both they and the communities benefit. As we noted before: In general, ‘doing good’ is known as cause-based marketing, social marketing, or purpose-driven marketing. ‘Doing good’ represents any efforts to give back to the community. And many companies deserve praise for their actions in this regard.”

Yet, when the private sector strives to address drug abuses, the results have been much less successful. Why? Because — as with smokers — drug users ignore these ads. It is their loved ones who pay the most attention.


How Anti-Drug Advertising Has Evolved

Just this week, Advertising Age highlighted the ten “most powerful anti-drug ads going back to the 1970s. Below, we feature four of them. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THESE ADS?


And here are four more recent commercials.




Kudos to the Partnership for a Drug Free America for being the driving force behind these ads. And to the corporations and media outlets that lend their support:

“Drug Free America Foundation is committed to developing, promoting, and sustaining national and international policies and laws to reduce illegal drug use and drug addiction. The Foundation’s vision is to  create an environment where citizens live lives free of illicit drugs.”

Click the image to learn more.

How Anti-Drug Advertising Has Evolved -- Drug Free America


Is Anti-Drug Advertising Effective?

Results are mixed.

According to a 2017 Associated Press report:

“Assessments of ‘Just Say No’-style messages show poor results. Between 1998 and 2004, the U.S. government spent nearly $1 billion on a campaign to discourage use of illegal drugs among young people. A 2008 follow-up study found the campaign ‘had no favorable effects on behavior.’ And it may have prompted some to experiment with drugs, an unintended effect.”

“Then, campaigns shifted focus. They appealed to teenagers’ desire for independence and self-control rather than drug fears. A 2011 study of the government’s ‘Above the Influence’ campaign suggested eighth-graders who had seen the campaign were slightly less likely to try marijuana. Yet, a 2009 review of 20 studies of school D.A.R.E. programs showed students who underwent training were as apt to try drugs as those who didn’t. The program sent police officers into U.S. schools to warn about drug use. On the other hand, a 2014 study of Communities that Care showed students enrolled in the program in fifth grade were more likely to abstain from drugs, tobacco, and alcohol as 12th-graders.”

If these ads/programs are not effective, what should be done? These are the observations of Keith Humphreys. He is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford. And he served as drug policy adviser to two presidents:

“There are terrific programs that invest in kids. And they don’t necessarily focus on drugs. They focus on things like teaching kids emotional regulation skills, helping them connect with others socially, and connecting them with things that are fun. It’s a competition out there. In the short term, drugs produce rewards. In the long term, they’re destructive. So you want to have other things for kids to do, anything that will engage them and make them sort of happy, full of life without drugs.”


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