Foote Cone & Belding

This is your media plan. This is your media plan fighting drugs.

Efforts by government and private authorities to combat teen drug-use stretch beyond that landmark 1980s campaign (created by ad industry executives), but few have been as effective as the one spearheaded last year by Foote Cone & Belding for the federal National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The media plan charted a new course in the third year of a five-year effort to reduce teenage marijuana use by 25 percent. Foote Cone surpassed annual awareness goals in a matter of months as it established a new strategy for talking to teens.

“We wanted to elevate the conversation,” says Kim Corrigan, executive vp/worldwide account director, “to make it more pro-me than anti-drug. We know teens are very sensitive to influences, positive and negative, from peers and the media. That’s why we positioned it so teens would see influence as the enemy and marijuana as one of the influences that gets in their way. It’s a way of empowering them, so they can stand on own at a key moment of choice—seeing that they could be above the influence. It’s a very robust, hopeful platform.”

With its creative brief established, the media team worked with the account group and vendors to create ideas on the theme of “Above the Influence.” Says Ted Ellet, vp/group media director at the agency, “We wanted to be very ‘us to us’ in the way our creative was executed, and we made that come to life in media by choosing vehicles that felt very ‘us to us’—from a teen’s view rather than an authoritarian perspective.”

The use of television was radically rethought. Instead of aiming at parents and teens together, this plan zeroed in on teen lifestyles. “We eliminated big event programming like the Super Bowl and focused on their equivalent in the teen world, like the MTV Video Music Awards,” explains Rich Gagnon, president/worldwide media director. Out went anything that smacked of authority, such as Channel One; in came cherry-picked teen faves in broadcast (such as Fox’s American Idol, WB’s Smallville and UPN’s Veronica Mars) and cable (MTV, Fuse, The N, Cartoon Network and Comedy Central).

Naturally, the plan was Web-heavy, using in-banner video, specific high-traffic teen sites such as Yahoo Launch and more. The online budget was doubled.

“Teens are probably the most engaged audience on the Internet,” says associate media director Lisa DiBenedetto. “We want to reach them when they’re actively working with the Net, so we got very involved with page games, pre-rolls, custom quizzes and AOL Instant Messenger buddy icons. We were able to run video in the small space above the AIM buddy list.” Users were encouraged to download the up arrow that graphically represented Above the Influence—over 10,000 downloaded it in the first month. “For teens to use it for their buddy expression, and to use these images in their own blogs and Web sites, shows how much we embedded this in teens’ minds,” she says.

The agency partnered with Shockwave to create an online game, Zombie Escape, which engaged teens in fighting the zombifying effects of dope; housed at Shockwave and the campaign’s Web site, it drew more than 1 million game-plays. “That’s a lot of people deciding they want to engage in the philosophy of Above the Influence,” says Ellet.

Gaming was part of a sizable out-of-home daypart to reach teens in malls, arcades, movie theatres and EB Games stores. Another outdoor strategy used to energize the campaign’s relaunch involved specially created wall murals in 25 top markets. “They were the artists’ own interpretations of what Above the Influence meant, placed adjacent to skateboard parks, schools and other potential high-risk zones,” says Ganon, noting that locations were extensively scouted. Likewise, customized murals were created for the campaign’s on-site sponsorship of the teen-centric X Games, in an effort that dovetailed with TV, print and online components for the event.

The print schedule required separate approaches. It’s a little easier to reach girls, with core teen female titles including Teen People and Elle Girl for mass, plus specialty title American Cheerleader. Boys require a patchwork of targeted titles ranging from comic books (both Marvel and DC—the teen-oriented titles); gaming titles like Electronic Gaming Monthly; sports books like ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated (the latter offers a copy-split under-21 edition), and extreme sporting titles from TransWorld such as Skateboarding and Snowboarding. “We bought 15 titles to reach teen boys, but you don’t need that many to reach teen girls,” says Ellet, adding that the agency ordered consecutive pages at launch for added oomph.

Another wrinkle is the long-standing requirement on government jobs to secure a one-for-one match from media vendors. That one-for-one deal is off the negotiated rate, adds Ellet, not an inflated rate card. “We really engaged the media community to make it part of this process,” he says.

Bob Denniston, director of the campaign in Washington, D.C., singles out the agency’s hard bargaining for praise. “They garnered a match from some properties where we’d never got that before,” he says. “We basically doubled the value of our investment.”

He also cites a well-segmented plan that offered separate messages to teens and parents with very little “spill.” As for results, teen awareness of Above the Influence ads reached nearly 60 percent in two months, with 3.7 million clicks to the Web site—double the previous amount. More important, marijuana use among teens has dropped 19 percent since the campaign’s inception.

“It was a big change moving toward online and to more edgy programs, but that’s where the teen eyeballs are,” the client concludes. “Foote Cone designed a plan that’s substantially different from what we had before, but we know it was effective in getting to teens.” Eric Schmuckler is a contributing writer to Mediaweek.