targeted campaigns that achieve high levels of reach and frequency, and with messages
designed specifically for the target audience ... we believe public service announcements
can play an important role in future drug abuse prevention efforts."
31, 2001 (Lexington, Ky.)
Televised anti-drug advertisements prepared to reach specific types of young people can
significantly reduce substance use among those groups, University of Kentucky researchers
carefully targeted campaigns that achieve high levels of reach and frequency, and with
messages designed specifically for the target audience
we believe public service
announcements can play an important role in future drug abuse prevention efforts,
report communications professors Philip Palmgreen and Lewis Donohew and psychology
professors Elizabeth Lorch and Rick Hoyle.
findings are reported in Television Campaigns and Adolescent Marijuana Use: Tests of
Sensation Seeking Targeting in the February 2001 issue of the American Journal of
Public Health. Also an investigator in the
study was Michael T. Stephenson, a communications professor at the University of
study evaluated the impact of anti-marijuana ads that target high-sensation seeking
teen-agers who show a high risk of substance abuse (about half the population). The researchers surveyed 3,174 youths in
Lexington, Ky., and 3,197 youths in Knoxville, Tenn., for 32 months from May 1996 to
December 1998. During that time, two
four-month campaigns of anti-drug ads were run in Lexington, with each campaign separated
by several months without ads. Knoxvilles
teen-agers were exposed to one campaign.
The campaigns were designed to expose at least 70 percent of the targeted age group to
the ads at least three times a week.
Lexington, the first campaign interrupted a trend of increasing marijuana use among
high-risk teens, causing a decline that ended shortly before the second campaign. The second campaign also coincided with a decline
in drug use.
Knoxville, the researchers found the ads also interrupted an increase in marijuana use
among high-risk teens and resulted in declines.
Knox County (Tenn.), effects were still evident several months after the campaign. There, the estimated drop in the relative
proportion of high-sensation seekers using marijuana was 26.7 percent, the
estimate is conservative, Palmgreen said. Without the campaign these
kids would have continued to increase their marijuana use as they got older. The actual
proportional reduction in use was probably over 35 percent.
The total reductions in Lexington were even larger, because there were two
serves on a national task force overseeing a $1 billion federal advertising campaign to
reduce illegal substance abuse. Many of the
ads being used in the campaign use techniques based on ads prepared by Palmgreen, Donohew,
and associates that specifically target high-sensation seekers. As Palmgreen observed, This is the first really solid evidence that
televised anti-drug ads can produce substantial reductions in actual drug use.