NBC Nixes Drug Ads

3 of Ogilvy’s ONDCP Spots Seen as ‘Negative’
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Within weeks of launching a new campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Ogilvy & Mather’s creative work has hit some bumps in the road.
NBC has so far refused to air three of the four paid TV spots, while ABC is questioning the content of one ad. The spots show parents chatting on the phone, watching television or sending e-mails when they could be spending that time talking to their kids about drugs.
Separately, some members of a key ONDCP advisory panel have voiced concern that the New York agency’s print campaign, which also targets parents, is too wordy and may fly over the heads of its intended audience.
Rosalyn Weinman, NBC’s executive vice president for broadcast content and East Coast entertainment, questioned the tone of the TV spots. “We have concerns that some of the creative is negative and very specific,” Weinman said. “We have accepted one piece of creative and the conversations about the other three are continuing.”
Shona Seifert, Ogilvy’s executive group director who manages the ONDCP account, said NBC was more concerned about upsetting other advertisers. “Each ad suggests parents spend less time with a product or service they advertise,” Seifert said. “They are nervous that AT&T and computer companies would have a problem with our ads.”
Weinman denied that other advertisers were the issue. She also questioned why the ads singled out three activities when parents do hundreds of things every day. “Why not tell parents to shampoo less or play less golf?” she said, arguing that the spots make parents feel guilty when they could be more encouraging.
ABC officials declined comment.
Alan Levitt, who manages ONDCP’s $185-million campaign, said he was aware of the panel’s issues, but unaware of NBC’s concerns until a reporter called. “What this episode has taught us is we need to do a better job of explaining to the networks how these ads fit into the overall strategy,” he said.
Ogilvy’s print work has sparked criticism among the members of the behavior change expert panel, a group of university professors hired by ONDCP to bring behavioral science expertise to the campaign.
John Worden, a research professor at the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine and the panel’s chairman, is among those who feel that the copy is too intellectual and that parents might not take the time to read it all, sources said. He declined to comment.
Levitt said the debate is all part of the normal review process for a high-profile campaign such as this one. “Some people on the [behavioral panel] thought they were on strategy and some didn’t.”
All creative work for the campaign must be approved by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s creative review committee. Allen Rosenshine, chairman of BBDO, New York, and co-chairman of the review committee, said, “I can’t discuss criticisms publicly In my professional opinion, it is good work.” He declined to comment further.
ONDCP’s $185 million budget has been approved by Congress for next year, but requires the campaign to submit a report on corporate involvement. ONDCP plans to hire a public relations firm to solicit corporate donations and Levitt said requests for the $3-5 million contract will be issued in the next few weeks. Fleishman-Hillard already handles PR work for ONDCP’s Internet ventures.