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Ginna Marston, Executive Vice President, Partnership for a Drug Free America
April 4, 2000. 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. Eastern

moderator: Welcome amandak. Ginna Marston will join us momentarily.

moderator: Tamararee, please state your question.

Tamararee: In the 1980's the Govt. reframed the drug abuse issue as a 'war' how has this affected PDFAs mission

Ginna_Marston: We've never found the "war" metaphor to be useful, especially since we focus on persuasive communication to change attitudes and reduce consumer demand. The "war" metaphor seems to keep people focused on trying to stop the supply of drugs into the country. Even the federal government has moved away from that terminology, for the most part.

Ginna_Marston: What is your opinion?

Tamararee: I have noticed a more medicalized lexicon in the past 5 years, but the 'war' metaphor has certainly filled the prisons

Ginna_Marston: Part of the difficulty of working on the drug issue is that there is no single paradigm or consensus everyone agrees on for defining the problem. Is drug use a crime? a civil liberty? a moral failing? a disease? a spiritual issue? etc. PDFA sticks to looking at it as a consumer demand issue -- people's attitudes need to change and they'll make different choices.

Tamararee: Does PDFA have a way of measuring PSA effectiveness?

Ginna_Marston: We look at usage trend data, but even more important to us is the research showing shifts in public perceptions and attitudes, since that's what the advertising aims to help change. There's no easy index for effectiveness, but a large body of data moving in the right direction is an indication of effectiveness, where these attitude shifts correlate to media activity.

Tamararee: I noticed that Argentina and other countries are listed as affiliates to PDFA. Is PDFA working on international educational initiatives as well?

Ginna_Marston: Our mission is in the U.S. only, although sometimes government leaders or diplomats from other countries ask us for consulting help in their efforts, and we give them what help we can.

Tamararee: What percentage of PDFA's PSAs are handled by the AD Council? Is there a preferred form of media?

Ginna_Marston: The Ad Council collaborates with the government campaign on the pro bono "match" portion of the campaign. For us, the preferred form of media in the early years was conventional, mainstream media used by the ad industry, tv, magazines and newspapers, radio, billboards. However, the face of media has changed drastically and we now use a variety of media, including internet, short films, cable tv programming, inschool, cd rom, etc.

Tamararee: Would you contribute the enormous success the campaign has had to this savvy technological use, or to other reasons?

Ginna_Marston: I think the progress is a result of applying an advertising and marketing model appropriately to the aspect of the problem where that can be helpful -- influencing public attitudes about drugs to affect consumer demand. It's a complex, entrenched problem, however, which cannot be solved via advertising alone.

Tamararee: Within PDFAs model for addressing consumer demand (or perhaps abstinence) I've noticed parents are a strong component of the target audience. Often the ads aimed at them could be accurately categorized as 'scare tactic' narratives of death etc. We know that death also sells substances such as alcohol. Have these proven to be the most effective ads with adults?

Ginna_Marston: Parents are a crucial target audience, and research shows the boomer parents are out -of-touch with the vulnerability of their kids to drug experimentation. So, raising the sense of urgency appropriately has been effective with them. That's true with kids, as well. Advertising about consequences -- as long as they are not exaggerated or hyped or inaccurate claims -- is highly effective with teenagers. This despite the myth that kids think they're immortal and do not respond to risk information.

Ginna_Marston: I want to add, though, that different segments of kids and of parents audiences respond differently to fear appeals versus other strategies, depending on personality and style.

Tamararee: Within the literature produced by pro-legalization folks PDFA is often criticized for receiving contributions from Pharmaceutical companies. These folks often claim that the Pharm. co.s are trying to control the psychotropic drug market. Any thoughts?

Ginna_Marston: This conspiracy notion is sensational, but not accurate. We receive support from about as wide a variety of corporations and foundations as possible. What we're doing is pretty straightforward -- advertising to "unsell" kids on specific illegal drugs. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, club drugs, etc.

Tamararee: I think what you said about the Boomers is fascinating and true. Why do you think that is? You also mention that different segments respond to fear with variation. Why and who exactly?

Ginna_Marston: Boomers are out of touch in many cases because they don't perceive their kids as getting into drugs or even being exposed to them as young as kids actually are. They don't realize how savvy their kids are. Teens are three times as likely to be using as parents imagine.

Ginna_Marston: Parents say: my kids are in safe havens -- home, school, friend's house. Yet that's where kids say they're getting high.

Tamararee: I believe it, I worked with drug injecting youth in Hollywood for awhile and this was certainly true.

Ginna_Marston: That must have been eye-opening. The powder heroin availability in the '90s got so many young people into trying it who never thought they'd use a needle. Also, it became so fashionable in music, film, modeling, etc. What did you do?

Tamararee: I am an anthropologist and I was working for Childrens Hospital on a research project

Ginna_Marston: There's a segment of teens that adopts more adult behaviors sooner, part of that group is very fashion-responsive to pop culture trends, including drug popularity, another part of that group is higher sensation-seeking by personality type, and craves novelty and sensation which correlates highly with drug trial.

Tamararee: Yes, there were really all types in L.A. using heroin. It is frightening stuff. It was a little too rough for me.

Tamararee: Is there any correlation between boomer parents' obsessions experiential consumerism and the kids orientation towards risk?

Ginna_Marston: I think the whole culture has a rapidly-increasing appetite for sensation. When you consider the escalating pace of change, it seems logical. Kids are growing up with such a variety of stimuli in their immediate experience, they can now manipulate their environment to increase variety and sensation.

Ginna_Marston: And kids have never been savvier consumers (much more than their parents). They know what to get where, how to get it, whether it's a good product or a "ripoff" , they're comfortable with advertising as a source of info re: value, etc. at very young ages.

moderator: PRstudent has a question. I will turn the over floor to them.

moderator: PRstudent asked "If PDFA targets the entire US, is there a lot of differences in advertising campaigns depending on the region you are targeting?

Ginna_Marston: Mainly there is so much about drug use and addiction that is universal, common experience -- across all parts of the country, among different demographic groups. However, there are a few signficant differences. For instance, when a new drug becomes popular, it can be regional, such as meth in the west for much of the 90s.

moderator: Tamararee, do you have another question for Ginna?

Tamararee: Does PDFA conceptualize its mission as an ongoing campaign long into the future?

Ginna_Marston: Realistically, we see a new cohort of kids coming into the middle school years every several years, so we need to keep communicating with them and their parents. But it would be great to have drug prevention institutionalized (into schools, businesses, communities) so that it's part of the litany of stuff kids learn growing up.

Ginna_Marston: Eventually, if society really supports positive alternatives to drugs for kids, that really engage them, then we could envision the need for experimentation going down.

Tamararee: Do you think this will happen?

Ginna_Marston: I do, personally, but many others are less optimistic and say drug-taking will always be part of culture. I think when we learn how to find gratification and meaning in our daily lives, and feel more fulfilled, it's possible the desire to escape our feelings and experience will go down.

Tamararee: Is PDFA getting more involved with anti-tobacco initiatives?

Ginna_Marston: We work closely with Center for Tobacco-Free Kids and support all the prevention initiatives out there for tobacco. However, we were created to address the street (illegal) drugs that other organizations did not address, and stick pretty much to that for the sake of efficiency.

Tamararee: Has the recent "scandal" surrounding television network substitution of program content for PSA spots affected the Partnership's relationship with the networks? With the public?

Ginna_Marston: No, the press misunderstood the issue and fortunately, the networks were clear in abiding by the agreements that were made initially -- aboveboard and clearly known to Congress, and legislated in the "pro bono match" part of the campaign.

Tamararee: The media in Los Angeles really played up this incident

Ginna_Marston: Realistically, the tv networks are not controllable by a single commercial advertiser.

Tamararee: Very true

Ginna_Marston: Had it been accurate, it would have been quite sensational and alarming -- that is, if the government were insidiously controlling the programming and editorial content of the media. As I said, though, to those who work in media, that just isn't realistic in this case.

Tamararee: If you could say just one thing about your experience in working in the Partnership what would you relay?

Ginna_Marston: I've loved working on this issue because it's such a rich and complex, human behavior problem, and it's something that you can positively affect with communication.

Ginna_Marston: The fascinating thing to me, and perhaps to you, as an anthropologist, is that drugs are not about drugs -- they're about feelings and all the underlying stuff.

Tamararee: Absolutely

Tamararee: What would you recommend to someone with my background who wanted to work into the communications field eventually

Ginna_Marston: I'd recommend starting anywhere locally that you can to jump in, and perhaps offer to work on one of the many worthwhile social issues out there on which you could apply some of your anthro. learning.

moderator: Tamararee, do you have any final questions for Ginna?

Tamararee: I was thinking about the feelings issue with drugs, and I can tell you that one of the kids I used to work with said that drugs are the biggest hug he ever had

Ginna_Marston: wow. That's quite a powerful statement and really says it all. The wonderful vision for the long term is that if kids get enough affection, and feel they are loved unconditionally, they won't turn to drugs to fill the hole inside.

Tamararee: Goodbye.

moderator: Thank you very much for joining us. Our next discussion will be Thursday from 1-2p.m. Eastern with Paul Kurnit, President of Griffin Bacal


Marcia, aef.com

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