Until recently, most anti-marijuana ads made the same fundamental mistake: They tried to link smoking weed with some sort of immediate physical danger. Think of the PSA in which a carful of stoners runs over a girl on a bicycle; or the one in which a fuzzy-brained pot smoker shoots his friend (oopsy daisy!) in the head. Melodramatic scare tactics like these may reassure the older, out-of-touch politicians who approve federal funding for anti-drug ads. But when it comes to a drug like weed, this message just doesn’t ring true with the people it’s meant to reach.
“It’s easy to do ads about drugs like heroin and meth, and the awful consequences that manifest,” says Tom Riley, director of public affairs at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “It’s harder to make ads about marijuana. ‘Marijuana’s gonna melt your face off’ isn’t really a credible thing to say to teens.”
This realization—the result, according to Reilly, of stepped-up research into the mindset of the 13- to 17-year-old target market (though I could have saved them a pile of money if they’d just asked me)—has led to a far more soft-pedal approach of late. Consider “Pete’s Couch“: In this anti-pot PSA, the major immediate danger posed by smoking weed is that you might sit around on your sofa for 11 hours straight. The ad won points with me for its honesty (I’ve blazed away a few couch-bound afternoons of my own). But I doubt the specter of inactivity is a deterrent for the average teen. With the advent of instant messaging, on-demand digital cable, and really awesome video games, I get the sense that modern youth sees no downside to spending entire fortnights immobile on an overstuffed cushion.
This new campaign opts for slightly scarier scare tactics. Again, though, the nature of the threat is subtler and more realistic. (Well, as realistic as an ad that features space aliens can be.) There’s no fatal car crash or gun accident—that kind of acute disaster would never enter into the cost/benefit analysis a teen might run before getting high. Instead, the frightening possibility posited here is that smoking weed will make you boring to be around. The animated lass in the ad described above seems fed up with her stoner boyfriend—her one line of dialogue is the ad’s title: “Not again”—and she’s quick to ditch him when that straight-edge alien dude happens along.
Read the rest here.