Madison Avenue Sells a Strong New Message: Drugs Aren't Cool

National media drug abuse prevention program

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided support for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) to expand and intensify its national drug education media campaign.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) launched PDFA in 1987 to create a comprehensive advertising campaign to change attitudes about illegal drugs and to cut future demand.

PDFA called on the nation's major media and advertising firms to donate media time, space, and creative talent to develop and run the ads.

Key Results

  • With the first grant (ID# 016072), PDFA doubled the value of donated advertising time and space it secured, from $160 million a year in 1989 to $365 million in 1992.
    • Some 90 percent of American households received at least one anti-drug message each day.
  • During the second grant (ID# 020895), PDFA continued efforts to get national media support, expanded media use of PDFA messages at the state and local levels, and educated the news media on the continuing threat of illegal drugs.
    • PDFA secured national and local media donations in advertising time and space valued at $600 million over the course of the two years of the grant.
    • By 1994, however, competition and regulatory changes had led to a 15 percent decline in media participation in the PDFA campaigns since 1990.
  • Under the third grant (ID# 022753), PDFA generated approximately $700 million in national and local donated media time over the three-year grant period.
    • It launched 26 new state and city media alliance programs, and a Web site targeted to parents.
    • National studies indicated a leveling off or reversal in drug use rates and improvements in key anti-drug attitudes among youths.
    • In New York City, specific anti-drug attitudes of elementary school children were stronger after exposure to PDFA's Inner City Youth Program.
  • In total, over the course of the three grants, PDFA secured more than $2.3 billion in donated advertising time and space for the more than 1,000 advertisements created by the organization's advertising partners.
  • By the end of the third grant, however, levels of donated advertising space and time had begun to drop significantly, threatening the organization's ability to achieve the same magnitude of changes in attitudes and behavior that it had in the past.
  • In 1998, the federal government's Office of National Drug Control Policy began funding a paid media campaign employing PDFA's anti-drug messages.
  • With continued support from RWJF (ID#s 023957, 030248 and 38020), PDFA planned to maintain its role as a non-partisan, independent marketing and advertising communication expert in this private-public partnership.