Congress to OK $150 Mil. Of Anti-Drug Abuse Ads

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Pending Congressional approval, the federal government will launch an agency review this fall for an unprecedented $150 million, five-year anti-drug campaign.
“This fall, we will ask for bids from agencies to execute this plan for 1998,” said Don Maple, deputy director of public affairs at the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, or “Drug Czar” office.
The review will begin with requests for proposals as soon as the funds are appropriated by Congress.
The initiative will mark the first time the federal government will purchase airtime to run anti-drug ads. In the past, organizations such as the Advertising Council and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have had to rely on the goodwill of media outlets to donate ad space. By paying for airtime, the government hopes to more effectively reach a larger percentage of its target market.
A representative for the partnership estimated that donated media time is 50 percent less effective than paid advertising because of poor targeting. Generally, media outlets reserve prime slots for paying advertisers, leaving less desirable dayparts available for public service announcements, which include anti-drug messages.
“We’ve got to make a difference in youth attitudes in a short period of time by creating effective ads in effective time slots repeatedly,” said Maple, who works for Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey.
The five-year campaign will be aimed primarily at the country’s youth. Drug abuse among teenagers has risen alarmingly in the last five years, compared to a decline in drug use among adults, according to government figures.
Officials at the Drug Control Policy office are overseeing the project and will run the agency evaluation. The parameters of the review will be similar to those of the U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Census.
The Drug Czar’s office has not yet determined the criteria for the search.
“We don’t want to force the issue of capabilities yet; it’s too early to define exactly what we want,” Maple said. He added that his office would probably be looking for a full-service agency, but it is unclear whether the winner would buy media only or also produce ads.
Currently, agencies work with nonprofit organizations on a pro bono basis to create anti-drug advertising.
The $150 million advertising budget has not yet been approved by Congress, but sources said the appropriation is all but a done deal. The House of Representatives has currently earmarked the full $150 million, while the Senate has so far approved slightly less, $110 million.
At press time, the houses were in conference. The administration still held out some hope that it would get the full $175 million it originally requested.
Broadcasters will be asked to match the $150 million in paid time with PSAs. Last year, the total value of all media donated for anti-drug messages totaled $240 million.