Edgy animation delivers anti-drug creed

Marketer: The Office of National Drug Control Policy/The Partnership for a Drug-Free America-Bea Bartolotta, deputy director, youth-targeted creative, PDFA...
February 1, 2001

Marketer: The Office of National Drug Control Policy/The Partnership for a Drug-Free America-Bea Bartolotta, deputy director, youth-targeted creative, PDFA

Agency: Merkley Newman Harty, New York-Andy Hirsch, Randy Saitta, Marty Orzio, executive creative directors; Bryan Burlison, art director; Jeff Bitsack, copy writer; Adina Sales, agency producer

Market: U.S. national

The idea: The ‘What’s Your Anti-Drug?’ campaign was designed to reduce trial drug use among kids ages 11 to 13. Specifically, the spots remind the junior high set that most of their friends don’t do drugs by showing them a community of confident, together kids who have better things to do than mess with their minds.

The campaign: ‘Anti-Drug’ launched last September backed by US$22 million from the US$185-million National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The first phase, overseen by New York-based Ogilvy, gathered responses to the question ‘What’s your anti-drug?’ The second phase kicked off with two spots from Merkley Newman Harty last November, illustrating two of the most popular responses: Music and dance. Three more 30-second spots, Being Myself, Drawing and one that’s yet to be named, will launch April 9 and run through the end of June.

The strategy:

While the hearts of the social workers behind them may be in the right place, a lot of PSAs are only good for entertaining the kids who mercilessly mock them. Such social messages have, over the last 30 years, earned a reputation for being well-intentioned, earnest and hopelessly out of touch.

This isn’t good enough for a generation of kids widely acknowledged as being smarter, more media savvy and more sophisticated than ever before. Luckily, a new generation of hip young agencies is beginning to produce spots that are cooler than doing drugs, and they’re doing it by taking the time to understand their audience.

Merkley Newman Harty’s Bryan Burlison says that means trading in what adults want tweens to be like for some uncomfortable truths. ‘I was walking past a school in New York, and I was listening to the kids to hear what they had to say. I was shocked to hear how they talked. To be honest with you, they were talking about getting fucked, getting laid and how she sucked his dick, blah, blah. And these aren’t high-schoolers. They’re probably 10 to 13.’

This isn’t feel-good stuff, but if you’re going to take the assignment seriously-which is, after all, to keep kids off drugs-then you’ve got to aim for real kids, says Burlison, not the na-ve conceptions of 40-year-old senior ad executives and policy wonks.

With this in mind, Merkley started with the style rather than the substance. Given the task of showing music as an anti-drug, the creatives didn’t begin with brainstorming, a storyboard or script; they started by hooking up with New York’s Curious Pictures and hunting for the coolest animator they could find. With Stockholm-based Filmtecknarna’s desiger/director Jonas Odell in hand, the most important things-the look, the colors and the style-were already taken care of. Then came the concept: Music waves emanating from headphones that destroyed an encroaching drug-ridden pestilence. The result was a stylish iconographic spot that was unlike anything kids had seen before.

For the first spot in the next round, Merkley is under orders from the ONDCP to deal with the ‘higher order’ concept of ‘being myself.’ Burlison says the agency pulled it off once again by turning to raw talent from the field. This time, young animator James Patterson, of New York-based Context Studios, was tracked down through, a website showcasing his work. The spot’s concept evolved naturally out of Patterson’s twitchy, constantly-morphing characters illustrating the personality battles within.

Similarly, for Drawing, the agency sourced the unique look of relatively unknown illustrator Mark Todd. This spot shows an ‘art geek’ fending off drug-pushing toughs with his pencil. A bit like Harold and his purple crayon (or Bugs Bunny for that matter), the hero gains the upper hand by doodling big feet and bunny ears on his animated foes.

Judging by the high rate of anti-drug submissions, favorable market testing and e-mail accolades, the campaign is at least getting a reaction from kids, says the Partnership’s Bea Bartolotta.

‘We’ve always known that the best way to get to kids is not to talk at them, but to have kids talking to other kids about what’s exciting to them,’ she says. ‘This has gotten them really excited because it’s not a matter of saying: `Don’t do drugs, they’re bad.’ It’s showing kids very much like themselves who found that something as simple as music can be an alternative to using drugs.’

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