Failure Of The National Anti-Meth Campaign- Heather Elder
Methamphetamine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system by increasing the production and blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This increase in dopamine causes the user to feel euphoria or a rush. Prolonged use of this drug can result in physical, chemical, and molecular brain changes. These brain changes are what drive the user’s need to attain more of the drug, which results in addiction. The most common form of meth is a white crystalline powder that is easily dissolved in alcohol or water to be taken orally. It can also be injected, smoked or taken through the nostrils. The few medical applications for this drug require only extremely small amounts, which would not be sufficient to meet the needs of abusers. The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported a decrease in the number users 12 years and older between 2006 and 2008, particularly in the age groups 12 to 17 and 18 to 25 (1). Although the use of methamphetamine among young adults has decreased over recent years, there is still a need for intervention programs that target these age groups.
Since 2007, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has run the National Anti-Meth Campaign. The target audience of this media based campaign is young adults 18 to 34 years old, as well as the families and friends of meth users. The age demographic selected has the highest rate of starting and using meth. The campaign focuses on the sixteen states with the highest rates of meth use. The campaign attempts to reach its audience through TV, print, online, and radio advertisements. In 2009, the Anti-Meth Campaign was re-launched with the intent to focus on educating the public about the consequences of methamphetamine use. The main campaign ended in November 2009, however the materials are now available as customizable public service announcements for non-profit and other anti drug organizations (2). The key components of this intervention program, such as their website and media advertisements, were based on a behavior model that proved to be ineffective in use. Thus, the continued use of these materials will be ineffective.
Issues Facing this Intervention
The intervention program is media based, using posters, television and online advertisements, and a website.2 The website and advertisements were designed using the Health Belief Model, which is an individual based rational decision-making model. The model examines an individual’s behavior choices through three factors: modifying behaviors, an individual’s perception, and likelihood of action. The key assumptions of this model are that all behavior is pre-determined and individuals are rational. The model is typically used for predicting preventative health behaviors such as receiving vaccinations. However, it is less effective for complex decisions due to the key assumptions being incorrect. Individuals are not rational and behavior is not pre-planned. The model also fails to account for cultural factors, past experiences or socioeconomic status. Additionally, an individual’s intention to act doesn’t always result in an action (3). These limitations make this model ineffective for anti-drug programs.
When designing an anti-drug program, it is key to understand how people make the decision to try drugs. This decision is often affected by social motivations, such as culture and socioeconomic status. It is also often unplanned. An intervention program needs to account for these factors, which the National Anti-Meth Campaign does not. The campaign only provides educational material to the public with few additional resources. This educational material is meant to provide the public with enough facts and statistics to make the logical decision about meth use. The logical approach is maintained during the campaign’s appeal to the loved ones of addicts. By using this logical information based approach the campaign fails to connect with the target audience on an emotional or cultural level. It also ignores the factors that make the drug accessible and desirable. By using the Health Belief Model, the National Anti-Meth Campaign limits its ability to connect with its target audience, which minimizes its ability to motivate behavioral change.
One key component of this campaign is the website. The website provides drug facts, intervention instructions, legal consequences, treatment options, and copies of the advertisements. Currently, it is also providing information on a new intervention program for tribal lands, which is comparable to previous intervention programs run by the campaign. The facts provided by the site are meant to educate the public on the importance of the harmful physical and social affects of meth, and the legal consequences if an addict is caught. Under the “Enforcement” section, there is a subsection that provides information on arrests and sentences of addicts. This is meant to give the target audience a clear understanding of what will happen if they are caught using this illegal substance. The section is also meant to scare individuals away from trying the drug because of the severe consequences. There is a subsection on diversion, which explains how the drug is made and ways drug dealers attain the required indigents. Additionally, there is information on how law enforcement officials track meth distribution and manufacturing. This section outlines the social consequences, which communities face as a result of this drug industry (2).
Although this section provides many facts and statistics, it will not stop people from trying meth. Individuals may perceive this information as a threat by the government regarding meth use. The message people will take away is that if one uses meth, and then one will get arrested and sentenced to years in prison. People will react in several different ways to this kind of threat. Some individuals will see this threat as a dare, which will cause them to be tempted to try the drug to see what will happen. Additionally, the manner in which the campaign message is conveyed does not provide a way for the target audience to connect with these consequences. This lack of connection will result in people reading the information, but believing that they would never get caught if they chose to try the drug. If there is no convincing threat of getting caught, then people will ignore this message and maybe try the drug. To try to correct this ineffective use of information distribution, the campaign should use stories of people from the target group, so the audience can connect with them.
Another section that has several problems is the “Intervention and Treatment” section. The treatment subsection implies that the best treatment for meth is to never use it in the first place. Although this is true, it suggests that the process of quitting is almost impossible. The authors of this subsection do state that it is possible to recover, but that it is extremely difficult. However, if one does want to take the initiative to quit, then the best solution is cognitive behavior therapy or pharmaceuticals (2). The tone of this subsection is not written in a manner, which would motivate addicts to seek treatment.
If this is the message the National Anti-Meth Campaign wants to give current addicts and their loved ones about treatment, then few will seek it or try to intervene. An anti-drug campaign is meant, not only to steer people away from trying drugs, but to encourage addicts to quit and help families realize they can step in to save their loved ones. The negative tone of the intervention subsection implies that one method to deal with addicts is to leave them in the hands of the justice system. By using a negative tone and taking this stance, the campaign is biasing people towards inaction rather than motivating them to intervene. The negative tone will make people question how much they want to help an addict, because it portrays addicts as being extremely dangerous. It is true that meth addicts can be extremely dangerous. Thus, caution is required for preparing and doing interventions. Therefore, the campaign should do more to support these individuals by providing information on interventions, and additional support such as places to talk to other who are going through the same things. This campaign should motivate people to help others, and encourage addicts to seek treatment. With the current phrasing and content of the website, the campaign is failing on both of these key points as an intervention program.
Not only does the content of the campaign’s website fail to effectively motivate the target audience to stay away from meth, but also fails to make a connection with them. By only providing facts with some additional resource links, the opportunity to form a connection is lost. If the designers of the campaign had realized the need to connect, then the website would be much more effective. The website should include a section highlighting the stories of real meth addicts, a place where people could blog, or a group that people would be able to join to show their support for the anti-meth message. All of these methods would help people form this needed connection with the campaign’s message. The website should be utilized as a key tool to motivate the target audience by including them in the fight against meth. By including the target audience, the campaign is giving individuals power and a stake in the anti-meth movement. If people have a connection with or an investment in the message, then the campaign will be much more effective.
The use of the behavioral model was not only utilized in the construction of the website contents, but also as the foundation of the design of the advertisements. Multiple posters and TV advertisements were created by the campaign to convey its message to the target audience. The advertisements are used as a tool to connect with the audience, but they fail to do so. Although there were posters and TV advertisements, only the posters will be focused on. The format of the posters was not well conceptualized from a design standpoint, and they fail to convey the desired message. The content of the posters also has some issue, but it is the design that hinders the message. There are three posters, which are particularly bad at achieving their desired affect; these are ‘Little Boy’, ‘I Lost’, and ‘Trapped’.
The ‘Little Boy’ poster is an image of a young Caucasian boy, about three years old, on one side and the statement ‘Look at all you could loose’ on the other. The image is placed within the word “METH” (2). When one first looks at this picture, the eyes are drawn towards the image of the sad child. Eventually, the text is also noticed. Overall, it is a very interesting composition, but people may fail to make a connection between the image of the child and the message. It is apparent, when viewing the poster, as a whole, there is a clear divide between the textual and the visual messages. This division is formed by the negative space between the E and T in meth. The negative area completely cuts the boy off from the message. Thus, the viewer will not make the desired connection. There are several simple solutions that the designers could have done to improve the poster. The first would be to make the image of the boy larger, so that part of his shirt is on the letter E where the message is located. This would unite his image with the text. The second solution would be to not completely block out the image from the original picture of the boy by providing a faint ghost image of the original picture in the background. The area of the image outside of “METH” would be screened back to allow the dominant message to read. The screened image would still unite the visual and textual message. The campaign could have also taken the additional step of providing multiple versions of this poster with children of different races. This last alteration would allow the campaign to reach other groups.
The ‘I Lost’ poster depicts a young Caucasian male, against a blank wall. To his left the text “my friends…” appears. On the other side is text explaining that he lost those things to meth addiction (2). He is not the stereotypical image that the public associates with a meth addict because he appears to be healthy and has some personal hygiene. By placing him in the center of the poster, the viewer’s eyes are drawn directly to him, but at the same time he acts as a barrier between the list of items and the “lost” statement. As a result of this placement, the viewer doesn’t make the connection between the two sets of text. By just listing what the young man lost to meth, there is no connection made between the viewers and what was lost. It is more difficult for viewers to form an emotional connection with a list of words than images. There are some changes that can be made to the poster to make it slightly more effective. The most important change would be to connect the two sets of text by placing them on the same side of the poster. The next would be to change the background to a depressing place such as a dark ally. The text should then be placed on an adjacent brick wall. The text should also be changed to focus on key core values of the target audience such as independence, self-control, and safety. The third change needs to be to his appearance. He should look not only sad, but also dirty and unhealthy, like he has lost everything. This poster needs to form an emotional connection with its audience. Like the ‘Little Boy’ poster, several versions should be made to address different sub target audiences.
The ‘Trapped’ poster is the most visually simple poster in the anti-meth campaign. All it consists of is an image of a hand beneath a plastic sheet trying to push its’ way out. A small set of statements about meth is in the bottom corner of the poster (2). This poster doesn’t appear to have any connection to the anti-meth message. When viewers first look at this image, they would have no idea what it is about. It has the slight appearance of a movie poster. The designers are trying to provide the audience with a visual image of the idea that meth will trap and control all those who try it. The designers want the target audience to understand the threat that meth poses to their self-control and independence. Though this is a visually evocative poster, it does not help the viewers make a connection with the message because it is not clear what the message is. The designers could attempt to alter the poster to make it more relevant by adding another hand and a face. This creates a stronger image of a person and the audience may be more likely to identify with being trapped by meth addiction. The statements should also be enlarged to provide a stronger visual presence. The statements should focus on the loss of independence and self-control, which is very important to those in the target audience.
The National Anti-Meth Campaign is based on the wrong health behavioral model and has an ineffective media program. However, changes can be made to correct many of these issues by selecting a more effective health behavior model and by making attempts to connect and support its target audience. The new health behavior model should be one that is designed to include social aspects and past experiences that are key in complex decision-making. The model should also be used to focus on the target audience’s core value in order to motivate behavior changes. The additional use of a social group will bring the target audience into the campaign and use them to help spread the message. The posters should form an emotional connection with the viewers’ by the use of strong visual images and supported by more than facts. With these changes, the National Anti-Meth Campaign will more easily achieve its goals.
New National Anti-Meth Campaign
The new National Anti-Meth Campaign would be constructed using Advertising Theory with the use of additional features. Unlike the Health Belief Model, Advertising Theory is not individual based, doesn’t require rational decision making, and does not assume that all behavior is pre-determined. Although Advertising Theory doesn’t require facts to effect behavior change, it is important that an anti-drug campaign provides them. The key feature of this theory is the promise that is made to the target audience. This promise should be something that is a core value to them such as freedom, happiness, independence, self-control, and safety. The theory also implies that the larger the promise, the more effective it is at causing behavior change. The campaign will be design to make these promises to the target audience (4). The message will be that if they make the decision to use meth, they will loose these key values that are so important to them. This promise will still be used for all target groups, but slightly altered for addicts or the their loved ones. The campaign will promise that if addicts decide to seek treatment for meth, then they can regain the core values they had lost to the drug. The campaign will motivate the loved ones of addicts by encouraging the idea that they are not hopeless and can help those they care about.
To adequately provide the needed motivation to all three groups, the campaign must still present the public with information on treatment options, intervention methods, and general facts about meth. The basic information about the drug will be provided, because many people do not know all of the physical, emotional, and social effects meth can have on individuals and families. The information section will explain why the campaign is being run. The tone of the content that is currently used on the website will be altered to provide a more optimistic view of recovery and interventions.
Not all the information that is currently on the campaign website will be retained. The information on sentencing, laws, and how dealers attain their materials will be removed because it does not help to deter people from the drug. This information is only designed to arouse fear in order to deter them from trying the drug. Fear is not always the best tool at predicting and altering complex decisions (5). In the case of this campaign, fear will turn people away from the message, before they have a chance to fully understand it. The fear tactic will not only turn off non-users, but makes users and their loved ones less likely to change or help other change. The new campaign will focus on making people want to remain drug free or become drug free. It will not try to scare them into treatment or away from the drug. Instead it will use support and encouragement, which are two of the most important components to recovering from such an addictive drug.
The campaign’s website will focus on providing some information, personal stories of addicts and their loved ones, a place for people to blog, and a social networking group that focuses on spreading the anti-meth message. It is important for the site to attract and hold the interest of the audience. In order to hold the attention of the target audience, key changes must happen to the format of the site. If the audience’s attention is not engaged, then the message will not be retained. Small changes such as background, font choice, and a complete overhaul of the logo have to happen first. The logo must be visually stimulating and youthful. It has to catch peoples’ attention and make them want to find out more about the program. By changing the font and background, the whole site will be more attuned to the culture of the target audience.
Currently, the advertisements run in a corner of the home page. This feature will be removed and replaced by the current leading personal story. This story is intended to form an emotional connection between the individual and the audience. The story will not only tell about what happened to that individual, but also make a connection to the core values that the campaign is selling through the promise. These selected people will recount how the drug took their freedom, independence, self-control, and individuality away. The stories will mention family, but focus on the values because that is the focus of the campaign’s promise. The home page will also feature group activities and pictures, which members are encouraged to participate in. It will also have a place where interested parties can join the anti-meth movement.
The section headers will feature resources, the social group, blogs, personal stories, and key information about meth. The resource section will provide addicts and their loved ones with the available treatment options, how to find local programs, first steps that can be taken to quit, and additional support. Recovering from meth or getting someone to agree to rehab is extremely difficult. These people will need all the help and support that they can get. This program will provide them with resources for the difficult path that will lie ahead of them. The blog will allow non-users, loved ones, and recovering addicts to talk about what is going on in their lives. The addicts and loved ones will be able to get additional support from the online community found at the site. This support will help motivate them to continue their recovery or to step in to help a loved one who is an addict. The personal stories can be considered another form of support for the addicts and families because these will be people who went through the same experiences and got through it successfully. The personal stories are meant to serve as additional support and a deterrent for those who have not tried the drug yet. Non-users will be able to form a connection with the personal stories and realize the importance of staying drug free.
The group and blogs are completely new features to the anti-meth program. The group is designed to promote/promise the core values of freedom, independence, self-control, and individuality. It will motivate people to stand up and fight for the values that are so important to them in their young lives. This motivation will occur by labeling the drug as a control mechanism. The campaign will not use facts to attract group members, but use the promise that joining the group will be a way to ensure that meth will not take away their independence, freedom, self-control, and individuality. The group will have merchandise and online activities. These features will make members feel like they belong to something. It will give them a stake in the anti meth movement. By giving a person something, they are more willing to fight for it because they perceive it as theirs (6). Since the blog will be open to everyone, members and non-members can provide support to recovering addicts and their loved ones. The blog will also be a tool for people to discuss different ways to remain drug-free.
The new campaign will continue to have a large media section. These advertisements will be designed using Advertising theory. They all will focus on selling the selected core values to the target audience. The advertisements will not provide facts about the drug because that is not how to reach a mass audience. In order to reach a mass audience, one has to provide them with a chance to get or keep something that is very important to them. Companies use this theory to sell their products. Large companies sell the values of youth, beauty, independence, freedom, individuality, and family to make people want their products. The ads are designed to convince people that by buying the products, they will be able to attain those values. This campaign will do the same thing, but instead of a product, the anti-meth message will be sold to the audience.
Posters and TV advertisements will be utilized by this campaign. The posters will continue to feature individuals, so that the audience can associate a face with the message. The posters will be similar to the personal stories on the website. By telling the story of even one person, in a large-scale media campaign, people will develop a connection with that individual. This person will illustrate the experience of losing their core values to the drug. Some of the posters will provide images of people choosing their values over meth. All the posters will contain the core values because that is what is being sold to the public. There will be some TV advertisements that are directly connected to some of the posters. Others will focus on selling the core values to the target audience through the use of visual images. These posters and TV advertisements are meant to make people want to keep the selected values or get them back. The campaign will display the TV advertisements during peak viewing hours and on the top shows of the target audience. The posters will be placed is area with high traffic of the target audience such as around school, in malls, and by parks.
This new campaign is very different from the majority of traditional public health campaigns because it is not based on one of the traditional behavior models. Most traditional intervention programs are individual based and require rational decision-making. This makes it very difficult to alter the behavior of groups of people at the same time. The re-designed campaign doesn’t require people to make the logical choice about drugs, but it makes them want to protect or get back parts of their lives that are so important to them. By making people see the anti-meth message as more than just a simple “say no” message, they will begin to see it as being important. This program is designed to motivate people to stay meth free, become meth-free, or help others to regain their core personal values.
1. Methamphetamine - InfoFacts - NIDA. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/methamphetamine.html [Accessed April 20, 2010].
2. MethResources.gov. Available at: http://www.methresources.gov/Index.html [Accessed April 15, 2010].
3. Hochbaum G, Kegels S, Rosenstock I, Susceptibility P, Seriousness P. Health belief model. United States Public Health Service. 1952.
4. Ewen S. Captains of consciousness: Advertising and the social roots of the consumer culture. Basic Books; 2001.
5. LEVENTHAL H, SINGER R, JONES S. Effects of Fear and Specificity of Recommendation upon Attitudes and Behavior'. Research in Consumer Behavior. 1970:298.
6. Eagle L. Public Health Branding: Applying Marketing for Social Change. Journal of Public Health. 2009;31(3):458–458.