Anti-Drug Campaign Takes Funding Hit

Without media dollars, program seeks new model

How do you support an advertising campaign designed to steer adolescents away from drugs without additional media dollars?

Such is the daunting challenge facing the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose media budget for the “Above the Influence” effort has been eliminated. Accordingly, the campaign, which was developed by lead creative agency Draftfcb, now will require donated media time and private funding.

Ondcp didn’t spend all of the $35 million that the federal government allotted last year. It’s only a few million dollars, however, and that will only last until the spring, according to Mark Krawczyk, acting director of ONDCP’s media campaign. “It’s literally like fumes in the gas tank,” Krawczyk said.

Still, the leftover dollars provide air cover for the ONDCP to find new sources of funding and, in the process, a new operations model. Krawczyk is open to several possibilities, including working more closely with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. He’s concerned, though, that without tens of millions of dollars to spend on TV time, his campaign’s core message of resisting peer pressure will lose steam. As he put it, “How long can a brand be cool, relevant, and have caché with teens if it’s not being seen on a regular basis?”

ONDCP and Draftfcb launched Above the Influence in November 2005 with an initial focus on reducing marijuana use. In June 2010, the campaign broadened to incorporate all drug usage and deepened its use of social media.

Eighteen months later, Above the Influence’s Facebook page has garnered nearly 520,000 fans. Also, more than 85 percent of 400 teens that ONDCP polled in September said they were aware of the campaign. Teens also have engaged with a new “Unwasted Weekend” initiative that encourages them to create videos about their favorite activities. MTV, Seventeen magazine and Clear Channel are among the partners in that effort.

So, concerns about effectiveness didn’t appear to trigger ONDCP’s funding cut. More likely, ONDCP—like most other federal departments—got caught in Washington’s wave of budget slashing.

“These are austere budget times, and the hurt will be spread across all federal agencies,” Krawczyk said. “But this is a tough pill to swallow.”

Similarly, Draftfcb New York chief creative officer Darren Moran said he was frustrated and upset by the cut.

“This is successful and there are plenty of government programs that can use some trimming,” Moran said. “This is about as far from pork as you can get.”

And while a cut from $35 million to zero dollars is drastic, ONDCP has seen its media budget decline substantially through the years. The program began in 1998 with an annual media budget of nearly $200 million. By 2008, that figure had dropped to about $78 million, and the media spend has fallen every year since then, according to Nielsen.

Now, ONDCP must start again from scratch. That said, Draftfcb has no intention of walking away, said Suzanne Santiago, group management director on the account. Indeed, ONDCP renewed its contract with the Interpublic Group shop last year and the deal runs through 2015.