Politics / Skepticism · September 19, 2006

Gov’t anti-drug ads on YouTube

If you like browsing through the videos on YouTube, you might just stumble on a user named “ONDCPstaff” – who describes himself as an 18 year old living in Washington DC, but sports a 3 paragraph blurb from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

All of ONDCPstaff’s videos are ‘anti-drug’ videos that you may have already seen on television.

From the AP article on CNN:

President Bush’s top drug-policy adviser, John Walters, said the agency was using emerging technologies to try to reach its audience. “Public institutions must adapt to meet the realities of these promising technologies,” he said.

Wow! How ‘hip’ and ‘groovy’! We all know how much youngsters appreciate it when we old folks make the effort to speak their language! I wonder when the ONDCP will include podcasts, text messages and Instant Messaging to make their message even more modern.

[The administration] said it was not paying any money to load its previously produced videos onto YouTube’s service, so the program is effectively free. Already by Tuesday, thousands of YouTube users had watched some of the government’s videos.

“If just one teen sees this and decides illegal drug use is not the path for them, it will be a success,” said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Just one? Well, they had already gone through the trouble of spending a couple million dollars to make these very slick 30 second spots – so I guess this is just stretching their original investment to get more bang for their buck. But do these advertisements work? And if they are successful in keeping only one kid off of drugs, then were they really worth it?

I tried finding these videos on YouTube. I looked under the keyword “Anti-drug” and got hundreds of hits, most of them with 5 star ratings! Wow! But they weren’t produced by the US Government – they were made by individuals who were parodying the anti-drug commercials from their youth. The Government ads, from what I can see, have a less than two star rating so far.

You can bet these new ads will be parodied – especially since they can now be downloaded directly to a personal computer, and then edited.

“Welcome to the great experiment,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. He predicted computer-savvy critics of U.S. drug policies will quickly edit the government’s videos to produce parodies and distribute those on YouTube. “This seems pretty new and pretty adventurous.”

How soon can we see some anti-drug mash-ups with other content? Maybe something like a Halo / Monty Python mashup?

I like the idea of telling young people what sort of hazards come with drugs – but I think we should do it the same way we talk about the hazards of smoking; briefly, to the point, and factually, with no exaggerations, talking down or trying to be part of their peer group.