THE PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG-FREE AMERICA STRIKES BACK!
IN RESPONSE: Drug Issues - Letters (Brandweek - 4152 words - June 8, 1998)
To The Editor:
During the course of my professional career, I have worked with hundreds of reporters from nearly all national media, but Dan Hill's article "Drug Money," in Brandweek, represents one of the most slanted pieces of reporting I have encountered. It is filled with distortions, misquotes, innuendo and one-sided coverage of the facts. As one of the major sources for this article, I freely provided Mr. Hill significant interview time and am disturbed at how my contributions were distorted and misrepresented. Senior Editor David Kiley's diatribe about how misguided a media campaign against drugs is compounds the problem, because it is based on many of the fallacious assumptions in the article itself. It also raises serious questions, in my mind, whether he or another member of the editorial staff hired freelance writer Hill specifically to conduct a "hatchet job," rather than a balanced piece of reporting.
One of the particular ironies about this article is that is asserts that the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) ad campaign, and the forthcoming federally-funded campaign that builds upon it, are proceeding with a minimally adequate research base. In fact, more research probably has been used in both the development and the evaluation of PDFA campaigns than any other ad campaign in history. The PDFA's first task in the mid-1980s, was an intensive review of the scientific knowledge on youth drug abuse behavior, with an evaluation of the literature and consultations with leading scientists in the field. They have continued to keep in close touch with the scientific community in the years since, and also have carried out their own ongoing programs of research, conducting both annual national surveys and a great many focus groups of children, adolescents, and parents--the major target audiences of the campaign. Mr. Hill dismisses the earlier national PDFA surveys because the youth samples were obtained in shopping malls. What he fails to say is that the samples and the field procedures were carried out in a rigorous and systematic way over time, generating quite valid results for many of the purposes for which they were conducted.
David Kiley says ". . . my curiosity stemmed from realizing that ad agencies seldom expend a fraction of the sweat and research over such [pro bono] advertising that they do for their paying clients." That may be true of the ad agencies, but the PDFA itself spends an exceptional amount on research, which is made available to the ad agencies and used in the selection of audience, subject matter and ad strategies.
Kiley also states that, "The truth is that entities like the PDFA and the Ad Council have had to be content with what they can get from agencies and media companies." That may or may not be true for the Ad Council, but he forgets that the PDFA is a creation of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and that the individual agencies often put their best talent forward so as to look good in the eyes of their peers, a number of whom are on the Creative Review Committee. Numerous high industry awards for this advertising strongly attest to the quality of their work, directly contradicting Mr. Kiley's facile observations.
People can certainly disagree with the need for a media campaign to prevent drug abuse, but that does not justify this kind of reporting. Both Kiley and Hill fault the government for mounting a media ad campaign without conclusive proof of the success of such projects. Two points are worth noting. First, we seldom have conclusive proof of anything--witness the decades-long debate over whether smoking causes lung cancer, even after 5,000 published studies. Thus, they hold up the ad campaigns to a ridiculous and unattainable standard. Second, the evidence they spend so much effort discounting is pretty convincing overall and it comes from unbiased and independent sources--that is, independent from both the PDFA and each other.
I believe that Mr. Hill's article repeatedly misrepresented what I said to him and that the misrepresentations were biased in the direction of helping him make his point. In a long article such as this, filled with shadings of the truth up to outright falsehoods and misrepresentations, it is difficult to set the record straight. Let me go part of the way by addressing several specifics:
(1) In the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the article, Hill says that the PDFA and ONDCP "have jointly embarked on a nearly $2 billion anti-drug campaign backed by good intentions and self-interested partisan politics, but also by flimsy research that would hardly justify launching a new stain remover, let alone a program meant to help keep children sober and alive. At least that's what the authors of the research say."
As one of the three authors to whom he refers, I can say flatly that I neither said, nor do I think, anything of the sort, and Mr. Hill knows it. His standards of proof for research prior to action are absurd.
The work of the PDFA campaign has been based on an extraordinary use of research, both from the larger field and from the research specifically conducted by the PDFA. Mr. Hill did not share with his readers my comments on the fact that, when we first asked questions of students about anti-drug ads, I never expected to see the high degree to which adolescents said that the ads affected their attitudes and behavior. Knowing that adolescents do not like to admit that anyone influences them, especially those who are trying, and especially adults, I thought it quite possible that we would get a finding of no-effect, even if there were one.
He quoted another researcher as stating that the kids might be telling her what she wanted to hear, but chose not to quote me saying that I thought that the response bias might go in the other direction.
(2) Mr. Hill seems to want very badly to discredit our findings from the Monitoring the Future study--findings that showed a very high degree of recalled exposure to the PDFA ads, high credibility with the audience, and high judged impact on their behavior--by emphasizing that they are not yet published in a journal article. When asked why not, I told Mr. Hill that we have a great many important things for which we are responsible on this study, and that this one had not yet risen to the top of the pile. Mr. Hill took the considerable liberty of summarizing this by quoting me as saying that I "just have more important things to do." This quote captures the meaning of my original statement but connotes a derogatory implication that was never there. I am sure this was not accidental. I consider that to be biased and dishonest reporting; and adding quotations to statements that I never made is particularly indefensible.
But to return to the substance of Mr. Hill's critique, the reality is quite straightforward. I have published the data on anti-drug ads in various chapters and reference volumes and shared them with professional audiences (as he reports), but they have not been the primary focus of a journal article to date. The reason is quite simple: The Monitoring the Future study is a very large study, with over 2,000 variables measured annually, dealing with dozens of subjects. Evaluating the media campaign was not among our primary original objectives--we simply added some questions about it to the surveys when it was launched. However, that does not make the results any less valid, nor is there any evidence of our having restricted others' access to the findings.
(3) Other misquotes. "But it's very difficult to measure the effect of the ads, drugs are such a feature of the culture," he said. This nonsensical statement, which has the effect of undermining my credibility, should have read "...But it's very difficult to measure the effects of the ads, because the ads are such a ubiquitous feature in the culture." Another quote was, "I'd like to see a ubiquitous campaign, the voice of society [regain that tenor.]" This mangled quote was further emphasized by featuring it next to my picture in bold without the brackets. It follows, "Society was speaking with a single negative voice about drugs in the late '80s." I believe what I said was that I would like to see that unified voice regained. In answer to a separate question, I had said that I thought the ad campaigns important because they tended to convey a unified norm about drug use to young people.
(4) Finally, I would like to address Mr. Hill's criticism of self-report data that underlies his facile dismissal of a lot of very good research. Most of our information about drug use among our young people is based on self-report data, and there is a considerable body of evidence that shows that when young people feel that the researchers have a good reason for asking, and can provide sufficient protection of their confidentiality, they give valid information on quite sensitive subjects like drug use. In our own surveys, we have had up to two-thirds of a high school class admit illicit drug use by the end of secondary school and up to 80% of them admit such use by the time they reach their late 20s. Questions about the effects of advertising are of a far less sensitive nature, and in our own surveys the respondents have no one to impress (or please) but the computer, because the self-administered questionnaires are quite obviously to be optically scanned by machine.
(5) Ironically, Mr. Hill quotes a pro-drug crusader who himself uses self-report error to make a fallacious point. Hill writes, "First, [Steven] Donziger [of Partnership for Responsible Drug Information] quotes a 1996 U.S. Health and Human Services survey that only 5.9% of children aged 12-17 had ever tried an inhalant." This "fact" is used by both Donziger and Hill to show that a PDFA newspaper ad claiming that "20% of all children had ever tried an inhalant by eighth grade," was inaccurate and therefore sent a dangerous "everybody's doing it" message. In fact, the PDFA statistic came from our study of eighth graders, and was accurate. Because the National Household Study is conducted in the home setting, it routinely gets under-reporting of drug use by teenagers--a fact that was used strategically, and quite possibly dishonestly, to trash the work of the PDFA.
(6) On the last page of the article, in setting up his charge that the PDFA's focus on marijuana is misguided, Mr. Hill states, "Public health experts, including Dr. Johnson's research, say that approximately 18% of youth who try marijuana go on to more serious drugs." Well, this "fact" is simply grossly in error. What we have repeatedly found is that from half to two-thirds of young people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs--in other words, far from being the exception, it is the norm.
In conclusion, I found myself wondering what could be the motivation for writing, or publishing, such a misleading, inaccurate and one-sided tract on a subject of such importance to our society. Perhaps you would be able to edify me on that point.
Lloyd D. Johnston, PhD
Senior Research Scientist and Program Director
University of Michigan
I want to congratulate you on an intelligent opening of the discussion of the effectiveness of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America's massive new advertising campaign.
Your reporter, Dan Hill, prepared a well-researched, accurate, cautious and thoughtful evaluation of an emotionally charged and poorly understood issue: the impact of anti-drug advertising on drug use by children. This article will become a classic because it is the first serious examination of PDFA's effectiveness in a major journal with no axe to grind.
The PDFA has the capacity to be a great institution with its efforts to reduce drug use amongst our youth. One of its major problems is its fear of criticism. If it senses an inquiry might not support its program, it cuts off all information about its activities. Many reporters have indicated that to me.
This is reminiscent of the Army Corps of Engineers when they were building the dams, levies and dikes that they promised would save the floods in the Mississippi valley. They quenched criticism vigorously. All America supported their effort to stem the river's floods. They ignored the criticism from what they called "flakes." Stemming the use of drugs by youth is supported by all, but not at the expense of being dishonest with youth about the facts.
It is predictable that they will vigorously resent your suggestion that the data is not in on their approach, or on the strategy of their methods. They will demand a rejoinder rather than ask for your help in examining the situation to see if they can improve their efforts to reduce drug use by adolescents. If they are wrong in their assumptions, it may take many more increases in youth drug use--at the expense of our youth.
As a scientist, I praise the work done in the article. As a scientist, I would like to find out from you if the above prediction is correct. Congratulations.
Chair, Executive Committee
Partnership for Responsible Drug Information
Chair, Biochemistry, CUNY Medical School
Your column was right about approaching the drug problem on a professional and strategic basis as opposed to a "creative basis." Making it an agency creative exercise is at the heart of the problem. As you indicated, it should be treated as a marketing (or un-marketing) problem.
Trout & Partners
Congratulations on the article. It is astonishing that it should draw instant criticism when it is merely saying such expenditures should be outcome and research based. I've been having a similar war over here, and wonder if you can point me in the direction of answers. I have yet to see any substantial research on the efficacy of the anti-smoking adverts that we are bombarded with. These ads focus on scare tactics; tumors and brain bleeds, etc. My understanding of scare tactics for non-users is that they tend to have the opposite effect (the success of the 'Death Cigarette' range in the U.K. being testimony to this), and for smokers, my understanding from the research on motivational counselling is that telling dependent users what to do will also often have the opposite effect (the notion of 'cognitive dissonance'). No one has been able to provide me with even the flimsiest of evidence that such campaigns work, other than statements that because Australia's smoking rate has fallen from 33% [to] 24%, they must be. No accounting for extraneous variables of course.
I applaud you for your courageous article about the ineffectiveness of the current strategies of the PDFA. It is unbelievable that there has been not a word of criticism about these campaigns until now, and it is all the more admirable of you to do so.
No one wants kids smoking pot, but pretending that marijuana is a monster that destroys anyone that touches it only ruins our credibility with kids. They aren't stupid. Let's focus instead on cocaine and heroin (although in fact kids are much more likely to harm themselves with alcohol and tobacco).
New Paltz, NY
It was with a great deal of dismay that we read your article "Drug Money." The article contained a number of inaccuracies related to our research, "Does Anti-Drug Advertising Work?"
For example, we found it very paradoxical that the first portion of the article derides the use of self reported data and intentions measured via anonymous pencil and paper task, and then the second portion ("Desperately Seeking Solutions") relies on focus groups to ascertain what form of message is most effective in reaching adolescents! Clearly, teens will say that advertising doesn't effect them--the real issue is: does it? We believe that a mounting body of evidence suggests that it can indeed reduce the likelihood of trial.
While our paper is indeed in the process of being revised, to say that the paper "has been withdrawn from consideration" with the implication that we did so because of problems with the research badly mischaracterizes the peer review process and distorts the conversation that Dr. Block had with Dan Hill. As Dr. Block told your reporter our reason for withdrawing the paper was to replicate the results using a related econometric modeling approach. Our research has now been conducted using two different methodologies, and each produced essentially the same result. Further, we offer a host of corroborating evidence consistent with our findings. Much of this evidence is based on actual behavioral data, as opposed to self-reported data. All of this suggests that our findings are extremely robust. Since Dan Hill spent hours on the phone asking specific, detailed questions about our study, it is highly unlikely that this mischaracterization can be construed as anything but intentional.
In our research, we use state-of-the-art econometric techniques and data from the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS). Note that this self-reported data is more likely to understate drug use, suggesting that if anything we understate the impact of PDFA advertising. In general, if one is able to obtain significant results when the data results in a bias toward a no-result (i.e. advertising does not have an impact), then the results are biased toward no result (i.e. advertising does not have an impact), then the results are clearly stronger. This is the case on our research using the PATS and related data.
In maligning our research, Dan Hill again demonstrates blatant disregard for the nature of research by quoting out of context, "Since this quasi-experiment has neither a control group, nor random assignment, it is open to selection biases, history effects and other sources of error." This quasi-experiment was conducted as a secondary analysis to corroborate and provide additional support for our previous findings using mathematical modeling techniques. A quasi-experiment simply means that it was not a controlled laboratory experiment, and as such, is always open to the biases we report in our study. Using this supporting technique, we find that drug consumption levels were lower after the advertisements were aired than before they were aired.
The results of our current econometric models indicate that anti-drug advertising had a significant impact on the probability of both marijuana and cocaine trial by adolescents. However, anti-drug advertising did not generally affect the decision regarding how much marijuana or cocaine to use for existing users. Further, we test and reject the hypothesis that marijuana use increases the probability of trying cocaine. Thus, although we find strong evidence that anti-drug advertising decreases drug trial, its impact on the volume of consumption of harder drugs by existing drug users appears to be minimal.
Our research and the related results represent a balanced perspective regarding anti-drug advertising. We do not state uncategorically that anti-drug advertising works. Additionally, our conclusions are based on solid scientific methods. The results were obtained without prior expectations regarding the effectiveness of anti-drug advertising. While we were fortunate to obtain the PATS data, we were working independently, and were not funded, sponsored or commissioned by the Partnership. In all these regards, the characterization of our research in the article is extremely inaccurate.
We sincerely hope that you take some action to correct what appears to be deliberate mischaracterization of our research.
Dr. Lauren Block
Dr. Vicki Morwitz
Dr. Bill Putsis
Dr. Subrata Sen
NYU Stern School of Business
As someone who has worked in Australia for many years at preventing the transmission of HIV among injecting drug users I must write in support of your stance on drug education. After years of running "tribes-"based campaigns targeting harm reduction and HIV transmission information to sub-cultures of drug users. I am acutely aware of the types of research, support and efforts required to make programs effective. Most of the public education campaigns on drugs suffer acutely in this country from reinforcing those things that the parents or producers of the adds would most like to be true, but very rarely are.
Every time a person smokes a joint, or has a line or a shot for the first time and doesn't die, millions of dollars of drug education disappear in a puff of logic. When drug users are actively involved in the discussions around drug education the education is inherently more effective and the complexities become evident. I wish you luck in your attempts to improve the efficacy of drug education, but I suspect the bucks will go to the agencies that tell the funders what they want to hear.
I am writing to express my outrage at writer Dan Hill's misrepresentation of myself and my research in his article, "Drug Money," published in Brandweek. In no way, do I "now cast(s) grave doubts on the research techniques that support my (1994) paper," as Mr. Hill claims in the first page of the article. In my interview, I did not say that I believed that our study respondents "were telling us what they thought we wanted to hear." I did discuss the limitations inherent in any study based on self report, such as the possibility of respondents giving "socially acceptable answers," including the facts that our study was completely anonymous and voluntary, and that school personnel were not involved in collecting the surveys. Furthermore, the students' self-reported drug use rates were similar to the rates reported in a statewide survey. It is imperative to note that all studies of drug use by teens are based on self report. While Mr. Hill repeatedly referred to the pressing problem of rising rates of youth drug use, he did not explain that these figures are obtained by the very research technique he maligned, i.e. self report.
I also want to bring to your attention the fact that I spoke with senior editor David Kiley. I expressed my concern about Mr. Hill's apparent bias against the anti-drug media campaign. Mr. Kiley assured me that I would not be portrayed in the article as refuting my study findings. It is now quite clear that Mr. Kiley shares Mr. Hill's bias. Or, in fact, Mr. Kiley may be the source of such bias, as is illustrated by his editorial, with the denigrating comments such as "that research . . . hardly stands up to the slightest breeze of inquiry."
I strongly urge you to correct the erroneous statements made by Mr. Hill and supported by Mr. Kiley. It must be made clear that I unequivocally support our published study findings. I fully expect that, as a member of the media, you will uphold your responsibility to report the facts, and not knowingly distort them to create a story.
Evelyn C. Reis, MD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Bravo! Your more-than-courageous analysis of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America was long overdue. For more than a decade, this dubious organization has run its skull-and-crossbones up the flagpole and the entire advertising industry has saluted--at attention, with honor guard and cannon fire . . . it has extorted pro bono ads from agencies and commandeered half the public service spots for the past 11 years--$3.3 billion worth--at the expense of all the other less-influential charities vying for precious public service time.
I congratulate you and your publication for running an article which reminds people that being objective is important, particularly when the issues involved are emotive and the decisions made have far-reaching implications. I hope that you will continue to encourage organizations, both private and public, to act in a professional, ethical and conscientious manner when deciding how to conduct an ad campaign. I believe that teaching by example, as you have done (by producing a rational analysis), is ultimately the most productive thing to do. Good luck in your future efforts.
Michael Nendick, Tokyo
Congratulations on Daniel Hill's excellent article "Drug Money." We need to be certain that resources used in the drug war are really being used to reduce drug use among our youth and not for other much less admirable purposes. Hill's article is an important step in the right direction. Thank you.
Dawn Day, PhD
IN RESPONSE: Drug Issues (Brandweek - 4403 words - June 8, 1998)
On April 27, Brandweek published a story entitled, "Drug Money." The article was about the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a program of anti-drug advertising being directed by the White House's Office of National Drug Policy in conjunction with The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. We set out with a basic premise, asking, with so much, including taxpayer dollars, now riding on the effort, does anti-drug advertising work? As freelance writer Daniel Hill pursued the story, there initially seemed plenty of evidence to support anti-drug advertising. But after Hill began reading the three bodies of research specifically offered up as evidence of anti-drug advertising's efficacy by the PDFA, a different story began to materialize. Hill found that the research was in large part reliant on self-reported data--surveys filled out by kids about how they feel about the ads; whether the ads have had an impact; their own experience with drugs, etc. Interviews with some those of behind the research led to further scrutiny on Hill's part, not of whether the researchers' work was valid, but of whether it was strong enough to be the foundation of so massive an enterprise. An accompanying column by senior editor David Kiley suggested that if taxpayers are going to foot the bill and media companies match ad time and space dollar-for-dollar with the government, then it is incumbent on the ONDCP and PDFA to present a better case that the anti-drug ad crusade is money well spent. Was Brandweek's story tough? Yes. Did we enter into the story with some dark political agenda, with a bias against anti-drug advertising or the PDFA? Categorically, no. As our story plainly stated, we think advertising can play a role in "unselling" drugs to America's youth. But, as a journal of marketing issues, we also suggest that if there is a question as to whether kids are being communicated to effectively in such a monumental effort, it should be addressed. The ONDCP and PDFA are already endeavoring to introduce more tools of behavioral science to the program, which we applaud. And we recognize that there is a gray area between the disciplines of market research and academic research and that there are no quick fixes in bridging the two.
That said, what we examined was the inventory of ads the program started out with and the research upon which that effort was based. Questions were raised, and we followed the reporting where it led. Because we respect the effort and intentions of the PDFA, we have allocated this editorial package of responses to our story, both pro and con, including a generous allotment of rebuttal space to the ONDCP and PDFA themselves, in what we hope will prove to be a thought-provoking forum on this issue.
I would like to correct some of the more unfortunate errors in your April 27 editorial and articles on the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign and provide some context regarding important information omitted. The government's largest media campaign represents a significant public investment. Your readers deserve a more accurate accounting of the campaign so that they can form their opinions based on the facts.
Perhaps most disappointing is your editorial concluding that the campaign "lowers, not raises the bar" on public service advertising. Because of its scope and magnitude--and the fact that the campaign uses public funds to pay for time and space--the government has taken significant measures to raise the bar substantially higher than any public service campaign in history.
We are particularly proud of the eight-month planning process we took to shape the design of the campaign, including consultation with numerous experts and organizations in both the private and public sectors. Many of the nation's most esteemed authorities in social and commercial marketing, teen and youth marketing, advertising, media, behavioral science, substance abuse, public health communications research and other fields were involved. Three expert panels were convened to advise on the communications strategy of the campaign and its implementation.
This consultation process underscored the need to incorporate three new measures that greatly increase the chances of success. In addition, to a process PDFA has long employed to ensure its ads are on the mark and reviewed for scientific accuracy, an independent panel of behavioral scientists has been established to provide further input into the creative briefs that PDFA provides its ad agencies. And although the PDFA has a solid history of developing creative briefs that guide its participating ad agencies, each new ad it produces with public funds will now also be rigorously tested through an independent process. Finally, the campaign's impact will be evaluated by the National Institute of Health through a long-term scientifically rigorous research program. No public service campaign has ever before had this degree of planning, accountability and evaluation.
Lost in your reporting was the perspective that this is a "social marketing" campaign aimed at changing the norms of behavior of young teens, not selling them a shoe. It is not just an ad campaign. Your writer completely missed this point and appears to be unaware of the most current understanding of how to conduct health communications campaigns that are so vital to protecting kids in the years ahead from illicit drugs, underage smoking and drinking, drug-related AIDS, violence and other serious threats to our children. This campaign includes other major components to work in concert with the ads and which were not brought out in Brandweek, including: a range of projects and collaborations with the entertainment industry to ensure honest depiction of drugs in film, television and music; a major Internet and new media initiative; a corporate sponsorship effort (already receiving enthusiastic interest); partnerships with myriad organizations and associations that reach kids, teachers, coaches, pediatricians, professional sports, civic associations, community anti-drug coalitions, media, etc.
Mr. Hill also chose to ignore the solid empirical evidence that advertising campaigns have been proven to prevent teen smoking and reduce drinking and driving among teen drivers.
Another critical omission is the phenomenal impact the campaign has so far had in our $19 million six-month test in 12 cities. Phone calls from the public, particularly parents, to local anti-drug coalitions are up five-fold. Orders for a publication that offers effective strategies for parents on how to deal with this issue are up 335% from a national clearinghouse. Anti-drug coalitions in the 12 cities are experiencing increased demands for drug presentations from corporations and schools, increased volunteerism, more calls for treatment services, increased funding, more partnerships, etc. The use of media to mobilize parents and support community anti-drug coalitions are two critical objectives of the campaign.
This summer, Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Drug Policy Office, will announce the launch of the national advertising phase of the campaign. We believe your readers, not only as marketing professionals but also as parents and aunts and uncles, will experience first hand how this effort can make a difference in the lives of their children and communities.
We are well aware of the concerns raised in Brandweek about expenditure of public funds. However, the National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign is an historic public-private partnership that benefits from the planning and expertise from some of the nation's most talented communications professionals. We are particularly pleased with how the campaign was developed how it is being implemented, and initial feedback we are receiving about its impact.
Readers should look at our Web site, whitehousedrugpolicy.gov, if they really want to understand this campaign. It contains much of the information omitted from the reporting on the issue.
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign
Office of National Drug Policy
To say we were disappointed by your April 27 cover story about the Partnership for a Drug-Free America is an understatement. The Partnership has been critiqued and analyzed publicly before. That's part of being in the public eye. But rarely have we seen journalism so sloppy, so biased, so malicious in intent and so overwhelmingly inaccurate.
Most glaringly absent for your "editorial package" about the Partnership are these undeniable, extremely relevant facts, given the context of your story: Today in America, there are 10 million fewer adult drug users verses 1985. The country has cut regular drug use by 50% and cocaine use by an astonishing 70%. Crime rates have come down to 20-year lows, and experts believe decline in drug use has contributed significantly to this encouraging trend.
We do not claim that our advertising is single-handedly responsible for these remarkable developments. But experts agree that the Partnership's anti-drug campaign contributed significantly to the decline in drug use in America. If you examine the data honestly and objectively you will see what others have seen: Drug use decreased as Partnership advertising aired heavily during the late 1980s. When fewer anti-drug ads aired throughout the 1990s, drug use began increasing among teens and pre-teens. These powerful, correlative data do not prove causality, nor do we suggest they should. But completely ignoring these facts, given the context of your story, is a true disservice to your readers and shows an utter disregard for objectivity and fairness.
The main charges your freelance reporter levies against the Partnership include the following:
1. PDFA advertising is not built on solid research.
All PDFA advertising is based on extensive qualitative and quantitative research. We have more research on attitudes about drugs than any organization in this field, and all of it is used in the development of our advertising strategies. We conduct the largest, on-going study in the country that tracks drug-related attitudes among pre-teens, teens and parents. We have conducted 10 waves of the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), since 1993 via Audits and Surveys Worldwide, one of the most respected research organizations in the field. The latest installment of PATS sampled close to 10,000 pre-teens, teenagers and parents. With this survey alone, we have conducted more than 82,000 interviews cumulatively.
Your reporter categorically dismisses all of this valuable learning. He does not acknowledge how this research is used in our creative development, nor does he recognize how these data track consistently with the most respected studies on drug use in the country.
2. Research data demonstrating PDFA's effectiveness are flimsy at best.
In his assessment of our advertising's effectiveness, your reporter completely ignores the massive reductions in drug use we've seen since the 1980s, and fails to recognize the parallels between our media weight and fluctuations in drug use. How can a journalist ignore reductions of 50% in overall drug use, 70% in cocaine use and 10 million fewer drug users in the context of this story? More important than individual case studies about PDFA, these data represent real change in the marketplace.
In an attempt to refute the specific case studies on our advertising, your freelance reporter harps endlessly on the shortcomings of self-reported data without ever acknowledging the acceptability of this methodology in analysis of a wide range of social issues, nor does he mention the strengths and value of this type of data.
3. Because PDFA advertising is donated, it is not research-based, nor is it top-quality work.
Each and every Partnership message is research based. Advertising agencies that create our messages are briefed extensively on the target audience with more research (from PDFA and independent sources) than most agencies ever encounter on an average advertising assignment.
To ensure that PDFA has only the highest quality advertising, each Partnership ad must pass through and be approved by our Creative Review Committee, comprised of some of the brightest minds in advertising, which may explain why upwards of 50% of the advertising concepts that come before the committee are never approved.
Advertising will not, in and of itself, solve the drug problem. The Partnership is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But we have decided to enter into a historic public-private partnership with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy because we believe our campaign, when executed with the right creative and the right exposure, can influence the way children, teenagers and parents think and feel about drugs.We believe our advertising can indeed unseal drugs. And we've got solid research that backs our conviction.
By entering into this new federally-funded, public-private sector campaign, our campaign will come under more intense scrutiny than, perhaps, any other advertising effort to date. From the beginning, we understood this would be the case. We welcome this analysis because, at the end of the day, this will only improve our campaign. If fairness and objectivity are brought to bear in public critiques of our work, we're confident the Partnership will live up to the toughest possible analysis.
Richard D. Bonnette, President and CEO
Partnership for a Drug-Free America
Specific points raised by PDFA:
Funding. Describing this new advertising effort as either a $2 billion or $1 billion effort is misleading. Both figures are speculative and based on aggressive forecasting. Coordinated by the White House ONDCP, the National Anti-Drug Youth Media Campaign will spend $178 million in fiscal year 1998. Current plans are to request $195 million per year for the next five years. Research on the progress of the ONDCP-PDFA media campaign will play a major role in refunding this particular program.
Agency Participation. Vendors, such as ad agencies, will not collect commissions. Rather, they will be paid in full for agreed amounts of compensation. Advertising agencies will be reimbursed only for out-of-pocket costs for PDFA advertising used in this campaign. All agency services will be donated to the effort for free. Agencies will not receive commissions.
PDFA Research Practices and Background. Criticized repeatedly throughout the story, the Partnership's research efforts are inaccurately described as "thin and overly-determined," and as solely focus-group based. In fact, our advertising development is mainly based on the battery of attitudes tracked for more than a decade via the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, conducted first for PDFA by the Gordon Black Corporation and since 1993 by Audits & Surveys Worldwide. Over the last 10 years, PDFA has conducted more quantitative research on children's parents' attitudes about drugs than any other organization in the country. Further, focus groups have been used as one of many research tools for enriching understanding of what the usage and attitude data trends mean in terms of the potential consumer. The sheer amount of research PDFA conducts ensures that Partnership's anti-drug ads communicate with target audiences as effectively as possible. Since our overall mission is to reduce demand for drugs via media communication, we do indeed advocate that children and teenagers not use illegal drugs--or "zero tolerance," as your reporter puts it (although this term has somewhat of a political connotation for your reporter). Suggesting that there is another "acceptable paradigm," or objective regarding mass media communication targeting children/teenagers regarding drugs (i.e., moderate use of marijuana, perhaps?) is something PDFA would disagree with strongly.
Brandweek wrote: "The PDFA and ONDCP cling steadfastly to all three pieces of research, the only work the organization cites among the hundreds of academic articles extant on teens and drugs."
We regard our up-front quantitative research--research that helps us understand our consumers and their attitudes about drugs--as research that "ground(s) our entire enterprise." PDFA has conducted more research in this area than any other organization in the country. Among the studies we have conducted since 1987.
- The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS). An annual tracking study of drug-related attitudes and usage among children, teens and parents, the 10th installment of PATS was completed in 1997 and released April 13, 1998. PATS has had samples of 7,000 to 12,000 in each installment, with a cumulative 82,000 interviews to date. This Partnership study has been conducted by Audits & Surveys Worldwide since 1993, and with the Gordon S. Black Corporation previously. PATS is the largest drug-related attitudinal study in the U.S. and the only drug-related study that tracks children as young as 9.
- The New York City In-School Study surveyed drug-related attitudes and drug use among 42,000 inner city school children between 1992 and 1995. This sample explored the unique attitudinal make up of below-poverty urban children, and includes an unprecedented sample of 6-8 year olds, as well as preteen, 8th and 10th grade children. It has yielded surprising data on the inner city drug problem. Conducted by Audits & Surveys Worldwide for PDFA.
- The Los Angeles Study. Two waves of research (1995 and 1997) that measure preteen and teen attitudes toward use of illegal drugs. It is projectable to Los Angeles County. Total sample size: 11,000. Conducted by Audits & Surveys Worldwide for PDFA.
- Teen Segmentation Study (1994), using the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, statistical analyses were conducted. The technique, a modified discriminate, predicts the group of non-users most likely to use--"at risk" or potential users--and separates this group from the non-users who have a lower probability of use. Conducted by Ken Warwick for PDFA.
Brandweek quoted Lawrence Wallack, professor of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, saying, "There's no solid data that show the media campaigns create meaningful changes in behavior." This may, indeed, be true if one is looking for scientific data to document a cause-and-effect relationship between advertising and behavior. Another perspective to consider: The same can be said for advertising campaigns undertaken to drive sales of a particular product. In other words, Ford may spend millions of dollars on advertising to sell its cars, trucks and other vehicles. Yet Ford, like most commercial advertisers, does not have the type of data that Professor Wallack is looking for. In the commercial marketplace, "meaningful changes in behavior" are tracked by correlative data--i.e., tracking inventory of product sales during the course of an advertising campaign. Evidence of sales is usually enough to persuade marketing managers that ad campaigns might have spurred sales. Proving that beyond an academic's doubt, however, would be difficult.
Brandweek quotes William DeJong of Harvard saying, "My fondest wish is to get these campaigns rigorously evaluated." A major component of the ONDCP-PDFA media campaign will be evaluative research on the advertising. ONDCP will be conducting a large quantitative study of youth (9-12 year-olds), teens (13-17 year-olds) and parents, in all of the 12 test markets with matching control markets. Larger studies will be conducted, pre and post, when the campaign goes national in July 1998. The context of the story suggests such research is not even under consideration, nor is it a major component of the campaign.
Brandweek wrote: "The most glaring inherent weakness of the case is self-reporting, or drawing conclusions based on what kids say they react to and say they do, rather than measuring what they actually do and actually react to."
Many academic/government institutions use self-reporting when research sensitive issues, i.e., Centers for Disease Control (Youth-At-Risk), University of Michigan (Monitoring the Future), U.S. Health and Human Services (National Household Survey on Drug Use). As long as researchers make it clear that there are potential limitations in self-reporting, it is considered an acceptable, valuable means of surveying.
In an attempt to refute the specific case studies on our advertising, your reporter focuses narrowly on the shortcomings of self-reported data without ever acknowledging the acceptability of this methodology in analysis of a wide range of social issues, nor does he mention the strengths and value of this type of data. In fact, self-reported data is, by far, the dominant methodology used in the marketplace. Even if it were not, what are the realistic alternatives for gathering large samples of data on problems like drug abuse? Drug-testing thousands of kids in America? Monitoring those studied by video camera? Testing hair samples for traces of drugs?
Brandweek wrote: "While ad agencies good intentions are true as any other partner in the mix, most are also too taxed to put the same of rigorous research and account planning into a PDFA ad that they might for a paying client . . . a lack of checks and balances proper research can provide may lead to work that, while creative, can hinder the desired effect."
PDFA provides ad agencies more research, prior to ad development, than many creative teams receive on commercial accounts. PDFA provides Partnership and independent research to ad teams. Sources of independent research include, but are not limited to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and, of course, the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future.
(Harvard's DeJong) feels that PDFA needs more input from behavioral scientists who know how to translate public health theory into messages that produce behavior change. "But PDFA is resistant, they want to restrict it to advertising folks . . ." As part of the new ONDCP-PDFA anti-drug campaign, behavioral scientists will review advertising strategies to ensure ads are in concert with the latest behavioral research. From its beginning, PDFA has reviewed many of its ads with a wide variety of experts--scientists, child psychologists, drug experts, etc--to ensure the accuracy of its copy.
On the subject of the program's focus on marijuana as a gateway drug: The National Center on Addiction and substance Abuse at Columbia University published a superb report on the gateway theory--i.e., alcohol, tobacco and marijuana leading to other drug use--two years ago. The study analyzes data from several different perspectives to substantiate a pattern of drug use among children who begin with the so-called softer drugs and then proceed to use more dangerous substances.
DANIEL HILL RESPONDS:
The PDFA's donated time and space totaled $361 million in 1990; $367 million in 1991; $323 million in 1992; $305 million in '93 and $295 million in '94. The PDFA's Mike Townsend and the ONDCP's Alan Levitt both told me that behavior lags advertising by two or three years, and, since according to Lloyd Johnston's own surveys, drug use started going up in 1992 (among 8th graders) and in 1993 among older students, the effect of the ads on overall national trends is murky at best. Note that '91 was the peak year, and the donated advertising did not fall off a cliff subsequently. That is why we wanted to examine peer-reviewed, published work. The PDFA cited only Evelyn Reis, Lauren Block and Johnston. They neither mentioned nor offered any other research, despite my request, and the ONDCP's deputy director [and Reis' co-author] could cite no other work but theirs to support the advertising.
As to self-reported data, I refer again to the quote cited in the story--from 1998, not 1988 as stated--from the American Journal of Psychiatry on self-reported drug use. And The New York Times noted on May 8, 1998 that new research "appears to call into question much of the data that has been gathered on sensitive subjects like drug use . . ." Finally, Block cites a 1991 article by Sickels and Taubman in the American Economic Review as supportive of self-reported data. Yet, three of the four articles discussed therein raise questions about it. One refers to adults already in drug treatment, who have nothing more to lose by disclosure; another refers to usage reports as being too low "because of shame associated with admitting to partaking in an immoral [not to mention illegal] activity . . ." And this is the supportive article.
Regarding Johnston's letter: He refers to the level of research on the PDFA. We were looking for published research that addressed the ads' ability to change behavior. Industry awards operate in their own political arena. Laudatory or not, they do not speak to the ads' effect on behavior in any rigorous fashion. Per Johnston's numbered points: (1), we did quote his unpublished finding, the actual percentage he refers to; we did not mention his surprise at the findings. (2), in the world Johnston operates in, unpublished studies are considered weaker than those that have passed professional scrutiny. (3), I stand by my quotes (see below). (4), see discussion on self-reporting above. (5), I don't believe the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information would categorize itself as "pro-drug." Otherwise, it probably would not have the likes of two former U.S. attorneys general and a past president of the American Bar Association on its board. The Department of Health and Human Services and Johnston came up with different figures. Who is to say who's right? Per Johnston's point (6), John Morgan, a professor of pharmacology at City University, provided me with the 18% figure; he also cited a National Institute of Drug Abuse finding that two-thirds of marijuana smokers have used no other drugs. Block's letter also states, "[We] test and reject the hypothesis that marijuana use increases the probability of trying cocaine."
As to the letter from Block, et al.: Our focus group was for perspective only, an exercise that will not inform any marketing efforts. Mentioning that her paper had been rejected for publication, Block told me her team, with input from an additional author, is "revamping the modeling to a more sophisticated econometric approach." That is not replication. As to corroborating evidence, Block's paper led me to the Sickels and Taubman article. I was confused by her statement that "self-reported data is more likely to understate drug use, suggesting that if anything, we understate the impact of PDFA advertising." As I read this, if they've understated drug use, then haven't they overstated the impact of PDFA advertising? As to the "quasi-experiment," I quoted a footnote referring to their written statement that "the initiation of the PDFA advertising campaign formed a natural, quasi-experiment." This is not a secondary analysis, but analysis of the PDFA data itself from 1987 subject of her paper. We did not discuss Block's funding, etc.
Since the article by Reis, et al., was the only one published, it's appropriate to address her letter last. In our first sentence discussing Reis' work, we stated she stood behind her paper. "I think [they] were telling us what they thought we wanted to hear," "You can't tell, based on the paper, that it actually works," and "My concern is the kids think they're supposed to say the ads work, the younger kids more so"--these statements, among other elements of the reporting, led us to use the term "grave doubts."
To this point, I wish to state all statements within quotation marks, as my notes indicate, were made by the sources cited.