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YouTube Meets Reefer Madness


i wanna be cool too!
Oct 22, 2005
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USA -- A generation ago--OK, almost two--one of the most entertaining late-night diversions was an over-the-top anti-drug film called "Reefer Madness." Who could forget the tragedies visited upon young Bill and Jimmy when they accept an invitation to the apartment shared by Mae and Jack, the co-habiting pot sellers? Meant to discourage marijuana use--it was titled "Tell Your Children" when produced in 1936--the film became a cult classic among college students in the 1970s. Usually, the audience was stoned.

Today's young people are no more receptive to anti-drug propaganda than the "Reefer Madness" crowd, judging from the response to a new campaign by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Last week, the ONDCP posted a series of 30-second spots on YouTube, the Internet video-sharing site. The government ads, all previously seen on TV, are now featured alongside countless amateur videos in which the mostly young subjects sing, dance, rant and clown for the camera.
Visitors who use YouTube's search function to find videos associated with words like drugs, weed, pot or 420 (a reference to marijuana, we learned) may stumble on the slick spots produced by "ONDCPstaff," described in a user profile as an 18-year-old who lives in Washington, D.C. We found the spots amusing and hip, but that just goes to show you. YouTube regulars have assigned them ratings no higher than 1.5 stars (out of 5).

The ONDCP isn't posting viewer comments, but you don't have to look hard to find them elsewhere. "The ONDCP has created a YouTube profile and it's about as cool as you might expect," reads a posting on "Teenagers are a little smarter than the government gives them credit for," reads another, at

OK, fair enough. Maybe you can give the government credit for going where its audience is, or trying to. It's a little like leaving those sex ed pamphlets on Junior's dresser instead of bringing up the subject at the dinner table: He might pay attention if nobody's looking. Thousands of viewers have clicked on the YouTube spots, and it hasn't cost taxpayers a dime; the videos are recycled TV ads and posting them is free.

It appears, though, that the ONDCP hasn't done much in the way of marketing that has worked. The federal Government Accountability Office reported last month that the $1.2 billion spent on anti-drug advertising since 1998 has failed to reduce drug use among teens. The GAO found that youngsters who saw the ads remembered the message, but were not dissuaded from trying drugs. The GAO recommended Congress stop funding the ad campaigns until ONDCP can prove they work.

A federal study did find that drug use by youngsters who are 12 to 17 has gone down slightly the last three years in a row. At the same time, it has gone up among those who are 50 to 59. Maybe the government should forget about YouTube and try to get its message out through the AARP.

Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Published: September 24, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Chicago Tribune Company

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