Drug Czar Throws Pro Bono Ad Cat Among Congressional Pigeons

22 May 2002

Questioning the reasons underlying the failure of the two and a half year campaign to wean US teenagers off drugs, so-called drug czar John P Walters said the government should pay in hard cash for the creative work currently done by agencies on a pro bono basis.

Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy , is responsible for coordinating all aspects of federal drug programs and spending. But a recent study conducted by an independent research firm found that although the campaign had raised parent’s awareness, its impact on changing teen behavior has been zilch.

Says Walters: “I don't believe any major advertiser in the business world would stay with the campaign, especially with results like this. We tried to save some money, but we are being penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

According to Congressional staffers, Walters’ utterings are likely lead to a face-off in Congress and a call for hearings.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America , which coordinates some forty ad agencies donating pro bono ads, said the core problem is a cumbersome creative-review process mandated by the ONDCP.

The Partnership believes Walters’ hidden agenda is to kill-off the current modus operandi: “You don't say to Congress it is not working, we have wasted $1 billion (€1.08bn; £0.68bn) and please continue funding it," said Partnership president/ceo Stephen Pasierb. “It seems to me that if John Walters were trying to preserve the campaign, he would be going about it in a different manner.”

Passierb believes that an ineffective six-level message strategy (produced by Omnicom PR shop Porter Novelli) is at the root of the problem; as is an eighteen-stage creative review process that requires 194 working days to get a 30-second ad on air. “The campaign is so complicated, byzantine and going in so many different directions that it is robbed of its effectiveness,” Pasierb accuses.

The public jockeying for position follows separate strategy meetings last week between Congressional officials, the ONDCP and The Partnership. Congress will shortly be asked to sanction spending of a further $180m on the campaign next year.

Data sourced from: AdWeek.com; additional content by WARC staff