Anti-Drug Ads That Make You Want to Take Drugs

There's so much anti-drug advertising out there. And so much of it, in so many ways, actually makes people want to take drugs. Not all such efforts are ineffectual, but some are truly ridiculous, and surely have the opposite effect on the target than what was intended. Let have a look, shall we?

  1. Only Vermin Take Drugs

    Advertiser: Above the Influence (Office of National Drug Control Policy and Partnership for a Drug Free America)
    These ads show teenagers as the vermin they are! Two rats offer each other rat poison. Slugs get ready to bang some salt. Bugs share bug spray. The tagline is, "What's the worst that could happen?" First, anyone who's ever worked with teens knows they think they're immortal and don't respond well to suggestions that they might accidentally kill themselves. Second, you're comparing them to vermin. I know everyone thinks teens are as lazy as slugs, as annoying as bugs, and have the hygiene and eating habits of rodents. But I wouldn't try to appeal to them by pointing that out. You catch more flies with honey.
  2. Do Drugs, Be Like Belinda Carlisle


    Advertiser: Rock Against Drugs
    In this rad R.A.D. PSA, Belinda Carlisle reclines on a beach in a sexy, shoulder-padded blazer. She tells us she used to take drugs, until she woke up one morning and looked scary, so she quit! Just like that. And now, life's a beach! The moral of the story? Do drugs and you'll end up like Belinda Carlisle, a sexy megastar. Also, you can quit any time. Thanks, Belinda!
  3. Stop Taking Drugs and Dance!
    Advertisers: Various.
    It doesn't matter if they're rapping, clapping or getting down with jazz hands, once they start singing about not using drugs, I start laughing. There are too many imbecilic musical productions that pass as anti-drug PSAs. I couldn't decide on one, so here's a sampler.

    McGruff the Crime Dog says users are losers!

    McGruff with Regina. Best painfully poppy lyric: "Learning how to say no can make a winner of you!"

    "Straight Up!" The anti-drug rap: Best inadvertently pro-drug lyric: "Hey little brother, what's up with these drugs? You wanna make a lot of money?"

    "Don't Put it in Your Mouth!" From Canada. Best puppeted lyric: "Don't you stuff it in your face!"

    "Choose." Best song-interrupting dialogue: "Can I change the channel or something?" "Well, you can change what's going on!"

  4. Be Sexy and Independent on Crack


    Advertiser: Partnership for a Drug Free America
    OK, this ad is not really called "Sexy Crackhead." I'm also not sure exactly what age group it's aimed at, but I'm desperately trying to remember how young I was when I became aware of prostitution. Let's assume the image of a young woman exiting her apartment on to a street wouldn't have made the 14-year-old me automatically assume she's part of the sex trade. Neither would her dialogue. "It's tough being 14. You know what I mean? I've been around and tried everything. I've been on my own for over a year now." Wow, here's a young, disturbingly hot 14-year-old putting on makeup and looking and acting like an adult. Which is pretty much all my 14-year-old self wanted to do. Perhaps it was meant to shock parents into action. Let's hope the action wasn't soliciting sexy, underage crackheads.
  5. Smoke Crack, He'll Rape Your Corpse


    Advertiser: Partnership for a Drug Free America
    The clear suggestion from this PSA is that if you do drugs, you will die and then a ghoul is going to have sex with your corpse. He's all decked out in scary Deliverance teeth and suggests you come to his place for a little party. He's excited because crack has been drawing a younger crowd, and he introduces you to two teens, including Tracy, a "cute gal" who is just 14. He then urges you to "join the party" and "try crack." In the most disturbing way possible, he adds, "I could use the company." Being corpse-raped isn't just a concern for those who die from drugs. I'll bet Creepy wouldn't keep his hands to himself if you happened to touch a downed power line. Plus, this whole ad is a bit improbable, no? I'm going to stick up for morgue workers everywhere and say the vast majority don't look like haunted-house rejects and have never diddled a corpse.

  1. Dealers Are Shapeshifting Snake Men


    Advertiser: Partnership for a Drug Free America
    The scary snake man was clearly meant to scare kids, but this was the '80s—snake men were the run-of-the-mill bad guys in cartoon shows and video games. Not a few boys dressed up like them for Halloween. This was a man who had the power to turn into a snake at will. He's a badass were-snake! He's cool as hell, frankly.
  2. Smoke Pot and Talk to Dogs


    Advertiser: Above the Influence (Office of National Drug Control Policy and Partnership for a Drug Free America)
    There have been quite a few weird Above the Influence spots over the years. For some reason, in 2007, they went on a talking-dog kick. You had a sketchy animated spot, where a dog admonishes his pot-smoking owner, telling him, "You disappoint me." If you've ever met a person who swore off drugs because his or her dog disapproved, let me know in the comments. Being able to talk to dogs would actually be great, provided your dog isn't such a pissy-pants killjoy. The Above the Influence dog has spawned a number of YouTube parodies, many in which the dog is violently killed. He even got his own Family Guy parody where they make the point: Who listens to dogs? A little later, Above the Influence reduxed the campaign with a live-action dog, making it even weirder. College Humor parodied that with a clip where the teenager gets upset and screams, "You can't tell me what to do! You shit on the carpet this morning!"

  3. Cartoon All-Stars Don't Take Drugs

    Advertiser: McDonald's
    In 1990, McDonald's sponsored an anti-drug special called Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. Despite being broadcast simultaneously across all three major networks, it never gained much of a pop-culture following. Still, there's no denying it's a painfully animated, atrociously scored, over-branded mess. The film includes Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Smurfs, Garfield, Slimer from Ghostbusters, Huey, Dewey and Louie, Winnie the Pooh, Alf, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Muppet Babies, Daffy, Bugs Bunny and a time machine. After some time travel, a roller-coaster ride through the human brain, a trip through a fun house, and a musical number called, "There's a Million Zillion Wonderful Ways to Say No," our protagonist wakes from his psychedelic dream and shouts, "Ah! What a nightmare!" We agree.
  4. This Is Your Egg-Brain on Drugs


    Advertiser: Partnership for a Drug Free America
    Metaphor at its worst, "This is your brain on drugs" defined many a Gen Y childhood, and left our cultural landscape strewn with parodies. The campaign was a paltry two spots, but their impact is undeniable. The first ad, from 1987, showed a sizzling frying pan. "This is drugs," says the voiceover. An egg is cracked into the pan. "This is your brain on drugs. … Any questions?" Comedians said whoever came up with the metaphor was probably on drugs. In 1989 came a sequel in which Rachel Leigh Cook goes ballistic on a kitchen with a frying pan. Comedians said she was clearly on drugs. What do you do with all that guilt and shame that Rachel Leigh Cook lays on you? You need a release. That's right. You take drugs.

  5. Smoking Reefer Is Mad, Mad, Mad

    Advertiser: NORML
    Watch the whole movie here. Reefer Madness was originally financed by a church group under the title Tell Your Children and was meant to be an anti-drug morality tale. However, the rights were bought, and it was released in 1936 as an exploitive film under a number of titles, including Dope Addict, Doped Youth, Love Madness and The Burning Question. A failure in dissuading drug use from the start, the film disappeared until 1971, when it was rediscovered by NORML founder Keith Stroup. NORML, if you're unaware, fights to decriminalize marijuana. Stroup bought the film and turned it into a cult classic among potheads—actually using it to promote pot use by showing how extreme and comical society's reaction to pot was. College kids loved the campy style of the film so much that distribution of it helped bankroll the then-new production company New Line Cinema. The film remains popular among decriminalization enthusiasts. In 1992 it was spoofed as a musical, and in 2005 it was recreated as a made-for-TV film starring Kristen Bell. It gets the No. 1 spot on this list because it now widely promotes the very drug it once sought to curb. Now that's an anti-drug PSA that makes you want to do drugs.

    I don't want to be a Debbie Downer and talk trash without giving ideas for solutions. It seems one of the more successful ways of crafting an anti-drug message has been to stop hiring actors and let the addicts speak for themselves—from the much-lauded Faces of Meth campaign to a short lived Partnership for a Drug Free America spot in which we see an excerpt of a heroin user from a documentary. Witnessing the real-life effects of drugs on the body is scarier than talking dogs, grabby coroners or metaphorical eggs. Then there's also the tactic of focusing on the positive of what happens when you don't take drugs—like "Ordinary Day," one of the better Above the Influence spots.
    Faces of Meth Partnership for a Drug Free America "Heroin. Want some?" Above the Influence, "Ordinary Day"
    BONUS: Anti-alcohol SPOT. Turn your car into a giant martini!

    Let's be honest, it would be freaking fantastic if your car turned into a giant martini. It just looks cool. The moment I saw this spot on AdFreak, I started thinking about how I might create a giant alcoholic art car. The only thing that could make this ad cooler is if Dita Von Teese was in it, too.