Friday, July 25, 2008

Want to keep me off drugs? Make me laugh or make me scream! - Part II

(To set the record straight, this blogger only uses one drug, Aspirin, and does not drink or smoke anything. However, she does not mind if others do responsibly. Which is why she's writing this.)

In the previous post, I looked at the not-so-memorable and definitely not so persuasive drug ads. DARE was big in the 90s, and yet the kids donning those t-shirts are the ones harvesting mary jane in their dorm closets. Something didn't work.

There's really no way to judge whether a campaign is effective or not, because its rather impossible to track which would-be user has watched what program/worn which t-shirt. But there are definitely some ads that make you think, or gasp, or say "WOW." Recently, I think we've had some memorable ads. Both of these ads aim to stun, whether making the viewer laugh or gasp in horror. And you don't stun with words. In any film school, you are told that good film making is about showing, not telling. What we have found are two North American ads that quickly show the dangers of drug use in ways that will be remembered by the viewers later on.

This one comes from MTV. Although the network has long abandoned music and opted to be a start-up vehicle for Southern California teens turned celebrities, they have come up with this masterpiece.

When I showed this in my marketing class, I had more fun watching the faces of my classmates. They were calm, then gasped in disgust and proceeded to laugh at the mumbled punch line. The message came very quickly afterwards. Marijuana is regarded as being a "light drug" with numerous researchers arguing that it's less toxic than alcohol and that the main reason it hasn't been legalized is the difficulty of related taxation. The key here was not to get you to stop using it, but to avoid operating heavy machinery, illustrating by the severe lack of judgment displayed by the two gentlemen in the front row seats. They didn't talk about the possibility of car crashes, severe bodily harm or incestuous lip locks. They showed. Wouldn't you remember this one? Wait until you see the next.

The folks who made this have really thought it through. I can really appreciate the horror movie feel, reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho and The Grudge. The contrast of the light bathroom, the girl-next-door and her future self, battered and crying on the shower floor, pleading for her to alter her future, actually had me saying "Holy crap!" Again, show, don't tell. She doesn't talk about the life of an addict, her images on wounds on her previously flawless face speak volumes of the dangers of meth addiction and how quickly that stage is reached.

When producing these sorts of advertisements aimed at a young audience, I think it's vital to understand the maximum power of your message and adjust accordingly. We are creatures of "do whatever we want" so telling us what to do won't help. We need information! Being condescending with ridiculous preppy afterschool specials never worked. Speaking of which, here's an example...

You can't prevent drug use or drug abuse, as some would argue, or purchases. The key is to make sure you embed these images in young minds and connect them to messages that you want to reappear when your audience is making certain decisions, be they drug use or buying t-shirts.

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