Provocative Anti-Drug Ads Target a New Generation Concerned With Sustainability 

Swedish organization Pubs Against Drugs highlights impact on society rather than individual

Convergent TV Summit returns March 21-22. Hear timely insights from TV industry experts virtually or in person in NYC. Register now to secure your early bird pass.


Many people can recall anti-drug messages from their youth—if you grew up in the U.S. in the 1980s or ’90s, the Just Say No or DARE campaigns may come to mind. But analysis has since shown that those popular slogans largely failed to prevent drug use among young people. 

A new anti-drug campaign in Sweden takes a different approach by focusing on the impact on society rather than the individual. Swedish agency Åkestam Holst NoA created ads for the organization Pubs Against Drugs (Krogar mot Knark) that target young people who are interested in issues such as sustainability, the environment and human rights.  

The ads expose the human impact of recreational drug use and link it to the violence and exploitation of the illegal drug trade—showing how partying can support problems such as child labor or the destruction of rainforests.  

Provocative lines include: “I only sponsor gang wars when I’m with friends” and “I only support child labor when there is something to celebrate.” They will appear on posters at major clubs and bars in Stockholm, as well as on billboards and print ads across Sweden. 

image
One night of partying can support problems such as child labor, the campaign says

Pubs Against Drugs’ campaign speaks to a younger generation who reportedly have a greater interest in sustainability, climate change and social justice. In a 2022 survey from market research company Savanta, younger people said they considered sustainability and climate issues when choosing brands or products, which ranked above concerns such as cost of living and mental health. 

While numerous brands have tried to capitalize on young people’s ethical and sustainability concerns to sell products, this tactic is unusual in anti-drug campaigns. 

image
Pubs Against Drugs ads will run in bars and clubs around Stockholm

“We know that young Swedes want to live sustainable lives and make responsible choices. They eat less meat, choose the train over airplane, and make sure not to buy a shirt that has been produced using child labor. But they are not as aware of the impact potential drug abuse has on society at large,” said Eva Wallmark, art director at Åkestam Holst NoA. “Individual drug use is often explained with excuses, such as, ‘It only affects my own health’ or ‘I only do drugs a couple of times a year.’ With the new campaign, we want young drug users to think twice before taking party drugs in their favorite restaurant and bar or when out clubbing.”

Tackling a rising problem

Pubs Against Drugs planned this campaign as Sweden grapples with a rise in gun violence, which criminologists have linked to the illegal drug trade. In 2022, a record-breaking 61 people died in shootings—a one-third increase from 45 deaths the previous year, according to the Swedish government. Eight out of 10 of those shootings were connected to criminal gangs selling drugs.

In comparison, Sweden’s neighbors Norway and Denmark reported four shooting deaths each last year, while Finland reported two. 

Pubs Against Drugs’ research found that 73% of 18- to 35-year-olds in Sweden have used drugs, and 54% said they used drugs at least once in the past year. 

Åkestam Holst NoA came up with the idea for this campaign during a regularly scheduled evening session when the agency’s creatives brainstorm solutions to various problems. While anti-drug campaigns usually focus on the effects to the individual, such as damaging health or causing addiction, this one instead takes a wider societal view, explained Rickard Beskow, creative and partner at Åkestam Holst.

“If you don’t care about your health or if you have consumed drugs before without becoming addicted, those kinds of messages will not have an impact. So, we decided to use a different approach,” he said. “We know that the target group want to be seen as ‘good’ people who are making responsible choices. That’s why we decided to highlight how their choice to do drugs on a Friday or Saturday is affecting their surroundings–the environment, other people and society.” 

CREDITS:

Agency: Åkestam Holst NoA
Art directors: Eva Wallmark, Michal Sitkiewicz, Hugo Wallmo
Copywriter: Rickard Beskow
Creative director: Joakim Khoury
Account manager: Anna Nollendorfs
Planner: Sindra Liebe
Creative designer: Sara Bellafesta
Motion designer: Ville Askelöf
Head of communications and PR: Gabriel Francke Rodau

Enjoying Adweek's Content? Register for More Access!