Newsbrief: Anti-Drug Ads Pique Curiosity, Researcher Finds 5/14/04

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The White House Office of National Drug Control Strategy's anti-drug media campaign is intended, at least ostensibly, to stop kids from using drugs. With the government spending about $200 million in taxpayer money annually and private enterprises kicking in a like amount, whether that campaign is working properly is a question worth asking. Now, once again, a researcher is suggesting that the campaign is having paradoxical effects.

Carson Wagner of the Department of Advertising at the University of Texas at Austin has conducted a number of experiments designed to test the impact of anti-drug ads using more sophisticated attitudinal measures than the self-reporting used in most research on the topic, the University of Texas announced this week.

"The majority of the current anti-drug advertising research is flawed because it relies on research participants self-reporting their attitudes in response to watching anti-drug ads," explained Wagner. "However, an immense body of research reveals that, due to their conspicuous nature, self-reported attitude measures are highly susceptible to social desirability, especially with regard to sensitive issues such as drugs."

In his most recent work, he studied the impact of edgy, gripping ads, such as those linking drug use with terrorism, and found surprising results: The more exciting the ad, the more the kids thought about drugs. "Keeping drugs on youths' agendas by using hard-hitting ads keeps them thinking about drugs," said Wagner. "And those same ads can motivate people to pay attention, which can result in lower anti-drug [attitudinal scores] as compared to watching ads that don't call attention."

That study won the Top Faculty Paper award for the Communication Theory and Methodology Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the largest and oldest mass communication academic organization, UT was proud to note

Based on his research, Wagner had some advice for anti-drug advertisers: Don't try so hard. "The conventional anti-drug advertising strategy has been to produce highly visible, attention-grabbing ads, most notably the campaign linking drug use and terrorism, and to place them at times when viewers are likely to be most attentive, for example, the Super Bowl," adds Wagner. "Although this may be an effective political strategy, it's less likely to achieve the goal of preventing illicit drug use."

No, but it makes great theater and provides many opportunities for parody.

Read an extensive feature article on Wagner and his work at http://www.utexas.edu/features/ online -- find the article in the archives when it is removed from the current feature page.

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Issue #337, 5/14/04 Editorial: Always Another Angle | Russia Enacts Sweeping Reforms in Drug Laws: No Jail for Possession | Maryland Treatment Not Jail Bill Signed Into Law | Canada Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Dying as Government Prepares to Call Elections, Few Mourners | Calls for Sentencing Reform Grow in Arizona | Announcing: "The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War" -- New Compendium by Sheriff Masters Features David Borden and Numerous Other Thinkers on Drug Policy | Newsbrief: Local Prosecutor Tries to Block Atlantic City Needle Exchange, Would Be New Jersey's First | Newsbrief: Pennsylvania Attorney General Hops on Prescription Drug Abuse Bandwagon | Newsbrief: Ohio Appeals Court Upholds City's Harsh Marijuana Penalties | Newsbrief: Congress Defeats Effort to Abolish Cap on US Troops in Colombia | Newsbrief: Anti-Drug Ads Pique Curiosity, Researcher Finds | Newsbrief: Alcohol Prohibition Coming to Nigerian State | Newsbrief: Study Finds "No Increased Risk" for Marijuana-Using Drivers | Newsbrief: Hip-Hop Summit Announces Mass Rally Against Drug War at GOP Convention | Newsbrief: Finnish Green MP Causes Flap with Admission of Cannabis Use | Newsbrief: Million Marijuana Marches, Continued -- Rocking in Rosario, Repression in Russia and Israel | This Week in History | Job Opportunity: Program Coordinator, International Harm Reduction Development Program, OSI | The Reformer's Calendar
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