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Anti-drug ads may have encouraged teen drug use

Communicating with teens proves to be a little harder than frying an egg in a pan.

By Rich_Maloof Apr 29, 2013 5:38PM

This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs.

Any questions?

Despite the seared-in metaphor of an egg frying in a hot skillet, that famous anti-drug public service announcement from 1987 apparently did leave many questions lingering in youthful minds. What are drugs all about? If they’re so evil, why are so many people drawn to them? And could they really be that bad, when friends who have experimented don’t appear to have fried their brains?

Photo: This is your brain on drugs PSA, egg in frying pan / RetroPile via YouTube, http://aka.ms/drugs Anti-drug messaging has historically missed the mark and may even have been counterproductive, says writer Shaunacy Ferro of Popular Science. But agencies such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy are starting to get smarter about why, and recently have been producing more effective campaign for teens.

Ferro points to a 2008 study titled “The Curiosity-Arousing Function of Anti-Drug Ads,” in which participants who had viewed public service announcements were more curious about using drugs than those who hadn’t. The ironic impact of the ads, the study authors conclude, is that they raise provocative questions about drugs and choices that a teen may decide can best be answered through personal experience.

Carson Wagner, an Ohio University author of the 2008 study and of a 2011 follow-up, told National Public Radio, “We become curious to close that gap in information. And in this case, that gap in information is the experience of using drugs."

Bing: Funniest PSAs

Well-intended as they were, anti-drug agencies and the ad firms they hired to produce PSAs misfired time and again. Neither the frying pan, the “Drug money fuels terrorism” campaign, the “What’s your anti-drug?” ads starring Justin Timberlake nor even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a measurable positive impact. Instead, those ads have largely been written off as overly parental, out of touch or just hilarious.

The anti-drug crusaders are now accepting that teens are by nature curious and rebellious. They are thrill-seekers and will take risks. They’ll fight for their independence and push against norms as they try to expand boundaries.

Though each of those qualities may be custom-fitted to drug experimentation, the recent “Above the Influence” campaign harnesses these characteristics for good.

The ads preserve teen independence and indulge a kid’s need to go against the flow. Rather than demonizing drug dealers or inadvertently piquing a kid’s curiosity about drugs, “Above the Influence” ads scarcely mention drugs at all. They arrive like a Facebook message from a true friend, encouraging the viewer to “stay true to who you are.”

The PSAs are gaining some traction, albeit in modest numbers. The 2011 study from Ohio University concluded that 8 percent of teenage participants who were familiar with the “Above the Influence” videos had experimented with marijuana, whereas 12 percent of kids unfamiliar with the campaign had tried pot.

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Photo: This is your brain on drugs PSA, egg in frying pan / RetroPile via YouTube, http://aka.ms/drugs

Apr 30, 2013 1:38AM
This is your brain... This is your brain on drugs... This is your brain on drugs with a side of bacon.
Apr 30, 2013 1:01AM

I remember being in high school and being forced to watch these ridiculous anti-drug videos that focused on the 'evils' of marijuana, showing how 'pot made you stupid'.  Since that year both the president of the senior class AND the president of the honor society were not only smoking but dealing weed, the videos rapidly became a joke.


I do think some of the current anti-meth ads are better.  The ones showing real before and after photos of meth addicts are very powerful and might actually get a kid to think twice.  Especially since unlike marijuana, meth is actually bad for you!  (And no, I haven't smoked weed in 20 years.  At my age, you can fit in your skinny jeans or you can smoke pot and get the munchies, but not both.)

Apr 30, 2013 12:51AM
 I remember at the end of this is your brain on drugs. they would ask, any question. we would say who's going to eat that egg looks good, stoned.  now I'm 45 work hard everyday married 23yrs. have a son  in collage. stay off the booze smoke pot love longer.
Apr 30, 2013 12:35AM
Legalize pot and cocaine.  In the 20s & 30s, we had freedom fighters in America who killed Law Enforcement Officers. They were the gangsters of Prohibition, the descendents of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. The narcotic prohibition act was pasted at the same time the alcohol prohibition was passed. The Alcohol prohibition was repelled and the killing stopped and an Industry arose. The narcotic prohibition act should have been repelled also and we wouldn't have the problems we have today. There was no problem with drugs in America before they were made illegal.  Get the crooked cops off the block and lets have real freedom in America.
Apr 30, 2013 12:31AM
how about this anti drug ad? we are waging a war on illegal drugs, wars are expensive, if we catch you with illegal drugs you will be required to pay for this war, not your parents, not your neighbors, not hard working, law abiding, tax payers, only you and others like you
Apr 30, 2013 12:26AM
forusa/no party.you might be able to control a dog,but not a human.never will .so just make it legal and move on.thks 2012
Apr 30, 2013 12:17AM
Same with smoking ads. Save the money.
Apr 30, 2013 12:16AM
It's human nature to want what you can't have. That will never change. Legalize and take the forbidden fruit aspect away from it. Because what we have done so far clearly isn't working. Drug use should be treated the same way we treat alcoholism.
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