The drug ads don't work

By Ravi Chandiramani

| 17 February 2009

The advertising agency that brought us Johnny Vegas and his knitted pal 'Monkeh' in those commercials for ITV Digital all those years ago has developed the government's multi-million pound ad campaign highlighting to young people the dangerous side-effects of smoking cannabis.

On viewing the ad I reckon it will do about as much for preventing cannabis use as Johnny and Monkeh eventually did for the fortunes of ITV Digital.

(The ad agency in question, by the way, goes by the name of Mother. Please be assured though, I am no advertising trainspotter).

The ad is run by the government's drug information service Frank and follows the reclassification of cannabis from a class 'C' to a class 'B' drug.  It enters the mind of a user, Simon, who is holding a party. During a frantic 42 seconds we're greeted with his giggles, munchies, memory loss, panic attacks and paranoia. But the ad doesn't sufficiently demonise cannabis, particularly its stronger, more commonly-used strain, skunk - which has to be its intention - and put the viewer off. It's all a bit too buzzy and upbeat.

If the government really wanted to deter young people, it needed to show a more powerful link between cannabis use and mental health problems - with a much bleaker advert. Instead, this creative effort will if anything create more intrigue in the drug among younger teens and might even prompt an increase in its use.

The result just smacks of a bunch of lily-livered government officials having allowed the advertising agency to get too carried away with their own cleverness and call the shots. The ad might be creative, but it won't, I fear, be very effective.

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