Anti-Drinking Campaign Just A ‘Start’ For Activists

What public-health-advocacy groups want is a fully funded paid-media campaign targeting underage drinking—just like the White House’s $140 million anti-drug media effort. What they’re getting is an $800,000 public-service effort sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services and done through the Ad Council.

The details of the campaign emerged at a Nov. 15 meeting in Washington when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (part of HHS) and the Ad Council invited various advocacy groups, as well as members of the alcoholic-beverage and advertising industries, to submit ideas about what such a campaign should include. Among the advocacy groups were the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The plan is to target the parents of children ages 11-15, with a secondary target of parents of kids under 21, SAMHSA officials said. Publicis Groupe’s The Kaplan Thaler Group in New York has been selected by the Ad Council to do creative. SAMHSA hopes to break the work by August.

“Bringing the industry together with government and public-interest groups can really have an impact,” said SAMHSA rep Mark Weber.

Of the three legislative efforts to create a national alcohol-awareness campaign, the Ad Council’s PSA effort is the only one so far to get passed by Congress and receive funding. A bill to create a larger paid-media campaign is stalled, and a bill to stop underage drinking—which would provide $1 million in taxpayers’ money to fund a media campaign targeting underage drinkers—has yet to move forward.

Legislators’ resistance to the larger effort stems from cost and concerns that its efficacy would be similar to that of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s anti-drug media campaign, which has not always shown effective results. Still, some lawmakers want a larger campaign.

“We hope that a successful Ad Council campaign, including an evaluation that demonstrates the effectiveness of these ads, will provide the rationale for an expanded national media campaign with a much greater level of government support,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.

The Ad Council said it has a long track record of effective PSA campaigns. “We know that public-service advertising can effect positive social change, and we know that through many of our campaigns, including safety belts and our drunk-driving-prevention efforts,” said Paula Veale, an Ad Council rep. “We don’t expect this campaign to be any different.”

George Hacker, director of CSPI’s Alcohol Policies Project, said he considers the PSA effort a “good first start” but argued that “this is no substitute for a fully funded national media campaign that controls the timing, placement and targeting of advertising to prevent youth-alcohol problems.”

MADD officials agreed. “More needs to be done,” said MADD rep Misty Moyse.

While the alcohol industry has opposed the inclusion of an anti-alcohol message in ONDCP’s campaign, it said it does support a separate national campaign to educate parents about alcohol.

“We know that parents have an influence on their children,” said Peter Cressy, president and CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. “The last thing the industry needs is underage drinkers.”