Sunday, October 10, 2010

Difficult questions Part V: How effective is anti-drugs advertising?

In a recent post I discussed the question of whether identity economics might help to improve understanding of teenage drug use. I have been discussing this question with Ruth, a nurse who has cared for drug users in psych wards. In this post Ruth comments on the effectiveness of anti-drugs advertising.

I kicked off the discussion by suggesting that one possible implication of identity economics is that anti-drugs advertising would not be likely to make much of an impression on kids unless they see the story it is telling as being relevant to people like themselves.

Ruth comments:
Anti drug advertising has failed miserably and may have been counter-productive. I say this because many teens see these ads and it simply reminds them of what they imagine their friends to be doing right now and sets up the desire to be with those friends and partaking in their shared drug taking – a mostly enjoyable activity. It's like advertising positively for things like chocolate or a holiday destination – you see it, you want it.

The words are heard as nagging noises and are ignored. The images incite memories that are attractive.

No-one sees an ugly person suffering on TV and relates the image to themselves – kids see the ugly person as a looser, not like themselves at all. This is particularly so when the ad comes on TV, interrupting unpleasant thoughts or conversations previously going on for the teen.

The Australian anti-drug advertising that Ruth is talking about can easily be found by searching on Google for ‘anti-drugs advertising Australia’. Such a search also provides references to research supporting Ruth’s view that anti-drugs advertising may have been counter-productive.

When I looked again at the advertising my first thought was that showing kids the bad things that could happen if they take drugs must have some impact. The message, ‘You don’t know what drugs will do to you’ is the kind of message I would like teenagers to think about. I must admit, however, that I would not be discouraged from drinking alcohol by the message, ‘You don’t know what alcohol will do to you’, accompanied by images of alcoholics. The message would conflict with what I perceive from my own experience to be likely to happen to me if I continue to engage in moderate drinking.

Ruth concludes:
I've never found a drug user – social user or not – who relates to the characters in those ads, nor have I found anyone who sees themselves as a potential for the advertised risk. Even if they are in it over their heads already. Those who cite the ads as incentives for getting off the drugs state things like 'I saw that happen to my friend and I want to get off for his sake' or 'I know they say that could happen to me, but it won't. I'm smarter than that'. I've always found it interesting that drug users (and dealers) use terminology about their intelligence when defending their position.

The discussion continues here.

No comments: