Campaign Effectiveness

Independent studies show the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign’s Above the Influence is working and is having a positive effect on teen drug use. These results are consistent with the Media Campaign’s Youth Tracking Survey which shows youth exposed to Above the Influence are less likely to initiate drug use.

Independent Studies

Dr. Michael Slater et al (2011), in a study published online by the peer-reviewed journal Prevention Science, found evidence for the effectiveness of the Above the Influence Campaign. This independent scientific analysis, funded through a grant by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, concluded that "exposure to the ONDCP (ATI) campaign predicted reduced marijuana use." The analysis, showed that those youth who reported exposure to the ATI campaign were less likely to begin use of marijuana compared to those not exposed to the ATI campaign – a finding consistent with the Campaign's own year-round Youth Ad Tracking Survey results.

Dr. Christopher Carpenter and Dr. Cornelia Pechmann (2011), in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH ), linked greater exposure to ONDCP's Above the Influence Campaign to reduced drug use among young females. Specifically, the study found girls to be especially receptive to Above the Influence's anti-drug messages about achievement and living life above negative influences.

Dr. Philip Palmgreen et al (2007) concluded that the Media Campaign’s dramatic depiction of negative consequences of marijuana use was principally responsible for its effects on high-sensation-seeking youth. The authors evaluated the impact of the marijuana portion of the Campaign on high- and low-sensation-seeking adolescents. A 48-month time series analysis was conducted on youth in two U.S. counties and found that marijuana use (past 30-day), which had been rising prior to the start of the marijuana initiative, declined in the high-sensation-seeking teen population—the target of the Campaign, as did pro-marijuana attitudes. Similar declines for other controlled substances—alcohol and tobacco—were not observed.

Dr. Douglas Longshore et al (2005) concluded that the Media Campaign can have a more favorable effect on youth drug use when used in combination with school-based prevention programs. The authors conducted a randomized trial of ALERT Plus—a classroom-based drug prevention program. Ninth grade students were randomly assigned to ALERT (a basic drug prevention curriculum delivered in the 7th and 8th grades), ALERT Plus (the same curriculum with booster lessons added for 9th and 10th grades), or a control condition (no curriculum). Past-month marijuana use was significantly lower among the ALERT Plus students who reported at least weekly exposure to anti-drug messages. The authors concluded that the Media Campaign may have led to reduction in marijuana use among youth who simultaneously received school-based drug prevention. This is consistent with other studies that have evaluated the impact of anti-tobacco and anti-drug media messages (Pentz, 2003; Flay 2000; Flynn et al, 1994, 1997).

Advertising, Research, Testing, and Tracking

The Media Campaign employs a rigorous 4-step research, testing, and tracking procedure for its advertising. The procedures are consistent with those used by leading commercial advertisers and follow ad industry best practices as set by the Advertising Research Foundation. A summary of results are also highlighted in the Media Campaign’s Annual Analysis Report to Congress.

Step1: Exploratory Research

To develop new ads and campaign messages, the Media Campaign conducts literature reviews, incorporates input from a variety of experts in public health, prevention, treatment, and advertising, and obtains scientific and factual claim reviews by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Additionally, the Media Campaign regularly conducts exploratory research with groups of teens, parents, leaders of youth-serving organizations, and other community stakeholders. Finally, the Campaign maintains regular communication with an expert panel—the Media Campaign Advisory Team—comprised of public health, prevention, treatment, and advertising experts who advise on Campaign development and strategy.

Step 2: Qualitative of "Focus Group" Testing

Early in the development phase of all Media Campaign advertising, competing ads undergo a rigorous qualitative evaluation among members of the target audience in at least two geographic markets. During focus group testing, members of the target audiences are gathered together to review ad concepts and discuss them in a moderated setting. Results from this focus group testing are used to improve the messages; only the most promising ad concepts are produced.

Step 3: Qualitative or "Copy Testing"

Each TV commercial must pass quantitative testing before being aired. Quantitative or “copy testing” places each ad in front of approximately 300 members of the target audience to assess the ad’s ability to strengthen anti-drug beliefs and attitudes; the ad viewers are compared to a control group that does not view the ad. Each ad must significantly strengthen anti-drug beliefs and attitudes in the test group compared to the matched control group that does not view the ad. A TV commercial will not air unless it strengthens beliefs or intentions associated with not using drugs.

Step 4: Tracking Studies

Every month, the Campaign surveys 400 teens, ages 14-16, to assess how the ads are performing, including teen awareness and memory of ads, as well as teen attitudes about drugs and intentions to not use drugs. The survey is conducted according to best practices set by the Advertising Research Foundation.

To perform this research, the Media Campaign uses a 3rd party contractor, OTX Research, an industry leader in market research.  Tracking study analysis has shown that awareness of Media Campaign messages—specifically, awareness of the Campaign’s youth brand, Above the Influence—has a significant positive effect on anti-drug beliefs and intentions to not use drugs. As awareness of Above the Influence grows among youth, youth attitudes and beliefs against drug use and the importance of remaining drug-free, including marijuana, have strengthened as well (see chart above). Further, tracking studies have shown that teens who are more aware of the Above the Influence advertising are more likely to hold stronger anti-drug beliefs compared to those who are unaware of the Media Campaign’s advertising. Anti-drug beliefs and intentions become even stronger when teens interact with Above the Influence.