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Playing It Straight

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Geovision Seeks Authenticity In Ads Urging Latino Youth To Abstain From Sex, Cigarettes
BOSTON--In separate youth-oriented campaigns for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health--one dealing with abstinence from premarital sex and another with smoking--Geovision seeks to avoid cliches and boost credibility by featuring members of the state's Hispanic community.
A 30-second TV spot promoting abstinence to 9-13-year-olds shows a group of Latino kids playing a board game. "Having sex can be like rolling dice. Anything can happen," the voiceover says. "You're gambling with your future. Sex is not a game for young people." The possible consequences of premarital sex are displayed on the dice, including, "Babies," "No money" and "AIDS." The final roll yields the tagline: "No sex. No problem!"
A second commercial in Spanish uses family imagery and urges parents to talk to their kids about the potential dangers of premarital sex.
Geovision has also fashioned a half-dozen radio ads in English and Spanish with similar messages and themes, said Juan Mandelbaum, president of the five-person agency and production company in Boston that specializes in ads for the Hispanic community.
Geovision was tapped earlier this year to handle the $500,000 creative and media portions of the five-year assignment, which is funded by both the state and federal governments [Adweek, March 16].
An effort was made to reach the Hispanic segment by avoiding "preachy" cliches and making the spots as truthful as possible, Mandelbaum said. Adding to the authenticity is the fact that no professional actors were used. Instead, members of Hispanic communities in Massachusetts were cast, he said.
Geovision's latest anti-smoking initiative is a 30-second TV spot featuring Red Sox pitching ace Pedro Martinez and general manager Dan Duquette.
A native of the Dominican Republic and a hero in the Latino community, Martinez teaches youngsters how to throw a curveball. When he discovers a pack of cigarettes in one boy's pocket, he counsels, "You can't pitch with this." The boy then throws the pack, which bursts into flames in the catcher's mitt. "That's a winning pitch," says Duquette, who is following the action from the sidelines.
The overall number of Massachusetts high school students who smoke has not dipped significantly in the past two years and is actually up about 4 percent since 1993, according to figures supplied by the DPH.
There has been a recent dropoff, however, in smoking among younger teenagers, said DPH representative Mark Leccese. That trend indicates that a key to success in paid media messages is to target middle-school students whose ideas are not yet fully formed, he added.
Joanne Collins Russell, principal of the Jackson Mann Elementary School in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston, said kids might contemplate what they see in advertisements but changes in their behavior can be difficult to gauge in the short term.
Mandelbaum served as director and art director of both the abstinence and anti-smoking campaigns. He wrote the Pedro Martinez spot and teamed with writers Norma Jean Colberg for the abstinence effort and Leonora Calderon for the "No sex. No problem!" execution.