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How Effective Are Anti-Addiction Ads?

For generations now, TV watchers have had the opportunity to see anti-addiction PSA’s flash across their small screens. Whether it was the D.A.R.E. campaign of the 1980’s or the frying egg which has been brought back this decade, these messages have been hard to escape. But the question is, are they effective? Or could anti-addiction dollars be put to better use?


Local Cheyenne, Wyoming outlet KGWN recently addressed that thought in an effective piece that shared insights from politicians, viewers and advertising agencies. Ohio senator Sherrod Brown was quoted in the article. His belief was that these types of commercials can make a difference, if they are executed properly. In his opinion, a PSA series like “Just Say No” failed in many respects. But Brown believes that years of anti-smoking ads have had a positive effect.


“We can all agree that ‘Just Say No’ didn’t work very well,” Brown explained to reporters. “But when there was a real focus and when communities and government listened to the experts on anti-smoking we were able in a whole lot of ways to dramatically drop the rate of smoking in this country.”


Advertising agency rep Wendy Melillo also spoke with the outlet and agreed that “Just Say No” missed the mark. Bringing a little history into that campaign, she explained that it initially tested quite well with adults. But its teenage target audience was not impressed with the message.


“Telling teens what to do is a good way to get them to do the opposite,” Melillo added. “And anti-drug campaigners need to keep that in mind. Something like the McGruff Crime Dog proved to be effective because its service announcement stems from its ability to point the audience to a next step.”


Melillo also chimed in on the success of many anti-smoking PSA campaigns. She explained that a good commercial needs to capture an audience’s attention and keep it. Indeed, many of the stop smoking ads have included jarring images of people in hospitals and zipped up in body bags. Shocking for sure but, in Melillio’s opinion, also very effective.


When it comes to modern day addictions and the opioid crisis, Melillo believes there are ways to make the message stick.


“Newer ads should make it clear that help is available, and recovery is possible,” she concluded. “The message most likely to get a user into recovery is simple, ‘there is hope, in that we can and do recover from alcohol and drug addiction’.”