Successful Mass Media Campaign: “National Illicit Drugs Campaign”

Unsuccessful Mass Media Campaign: “Excuses Campaign”

Word count: 1,319 total


Mass media, in regards to health promotion, is a cost effective means of broadcasting a particular message to a large population of people (Kassirer, 2009). This form of 'mass communication' can be spread through the use of various mediums, such as Television (TV), radio, books, newspapers, magazines, and the internet. Through the popularity of these mediums and other influential factors the outcome of the mass media message can be determined. The purpose of this report is to compare and discuss the differences between the unsuccessful anti-smoking campaign, “Excuses” created by the Quit organisation and the successful “National Illicit Drugs Campaign” created by the Commonwealth Government of Australia.

What was the Excuses Campaign?

The Excuses Campaign was run from May 28th to June 7th 1996 in conjunction with the "Victorian Quit Week" Campaign (May 31st to June 7th), and it focused on encouraging adult smokers to quit smoking (Morand & Mullins, 1997). The Excuses Campaign was advertised/broadcast through TV, radio and the press (ie: Herald Sun Newspaper and Leader Newspaper) (Morand & Mullins, 1997). For full TV and radio scripts please refer to Appendix 1. The Excuses Campaign addressed four key points:
  1. The excuses smokers make in order to NOT quit (Morand & Mullins, 1997)
  2. The perceived difficulties of actually quitting (Morand & Mullins, 1997)
  3. The dangers of smoking along with everyday health effects (Morand & Mullins, 1997)
  4. Information about where to get help for quitting smoking (Morand & Mullins, 1997)
Through a television survey of 501 residents in Melbourne and regional Victoria, the Excuses Campaign was deemed unsuccessful (Delaney, Lough, Whelan & Cameron, 2004).

What was the National Illicit Drugs Campaign?

The National Illicit Drugs Campaign (NIDC), as part of the Commonwealth Government's National Illicit Drugs Strategy (NIDS), was launched in March 2001 and ended around May-June the same year (Bertram, et al. 2003). The campaign was aimed at reducing the supply and demand of illicit drugs by focusing on two groups, the Primary and Secondary target groups (Bertram, et al. 2003). The Primary target group focused on the influential and supportive roles that parents and carers play towards their 8-17 year olds, while the Secondary target group focused on community members without children between 8-17 years and young people 12-17 years of age (Bertram, et al. 2003). This campaign was based on diverse formative research conducted between 1998 and 1999 with the parents and carers of 12-17 year olds, as well as additional research conducted in 1999 with parents/carers of a non-English speaking background (NESB) (Bertram, et al. 2003). The opinions of young people and community members were correlated after the campaign in 2001 in order to evaluate the campaigns impact (Bertram, et al. 2003). Quite a number of mass media resources were used mainstream, such as:
  • TV commercials,
  • press and print advertising,
  • billboard advertising,
  • a parent booklet and leaflet,
  • radio advertising (language specific for NESB),
  • a 1800 telephone information/counselling line,
  • campaign website,
  • and various public relation activities (Bertram, et al. 2003).
The success rates of each resource can be found in Appendix 3. This campaign, which was given the slogan 'Tough on Drugs,' was found to be statistically successful and has continued campaigning with successful results (DEEW, 2009).

Why was the National Illicit Drugs Campaign successful?

The diverse range of mass media resources used captured a wide spread audience of parents, carers, community members and young people. It showed a significant positive influence over the statistics surrounding drug use and related issues. The 'drug education' sector of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace relations (DEEW) (2009), found that through this campaign there was a significant increase in parent-child communication about drugs, availability of treatment options and information about drugs. There was also a significant decrease in the amount of people using illicit drugs and dying of overdoses (see Appendix 4) (DEEW, 2009). This campaign was described as the Governments 'largest single initiative ever undertaken in this country' towards dealing with the supply and/or demand of illicit drugs with a commitment of more than $625 million (DEEW, 2009). In evaluation of the campaign it was found that both the Primary and Secondary target groups effectively recognised the campaign and recalled its information, through remembering both the mainstream (i.e. TV commercials and booklet distribution) and language specific resources (i.e. radio advertisements) (Bertram et al, 2003). This campaign was successful because it combined the use of Mass Media with local initiatives, which not only built a reputation and awareness of the message but instilled faith towards behavioural change (Nicholas, 2002). The message was spread over a diverse, yet relevant, audience through quite a number of resources backed up by the Australian Government and millions of dollars. There was fore-planning, targeting, pretesting, evaluation of previous mass media campaigns, expected outcomes outlined and the campaign has been successfully sustained, which, according to Roger Nicholas (2002) are all effective tools towards the prevention of illicit drug use.

Why was the Excuses Campaign unsuccessful?

The total cost of the Excuses Campaign was $92, 592, which seems quite expensive but is actually significantly lower than that spent on previous mass media campaigns (Morand & Mullins, 1997). This means there was a decrease in the amount of funding available to get the message out into the public. The television (TV) advertisement, aired on 2 channels from 9:00am to 6:00pm, but only lasted six days (June 2nd to June 7th) (Morand & Mullins, 1997). Similarly with the three radio advertisements, titled “Weight,” “I Enjoy It,” and “It Relaxes Me,” was aired on several stations from 7:30am to 8:00pm but only for 11 days (May 28th to June 7th) (Morand & Mullins, 1997). Both media mediums had quite a short duration allowing for decreased exposure time towards the intended target audience – adult smokers. From the telephone survey performed after the Excuses Campaign, individuals generally believed that more confronting and graphic advertisements would have had a greater health behaviour change impact – quitting smoking (Morand & Mullins, 1997). This indicates that research prior to the campaign may have aided the Quit organisation in creating a successful or at least more effective mass media campaign. In addition, of the individuals surveyed 48% saw the Excuses advertisement on TV, 34% heard the radio commercials and 30% recalled seeing the Newspaper articles – but only after specific prompting (Morand & Mullins, 1997). This indicates more attention needed to be focused on the TV and radio to get the anti-smoking message across to the intended audience.

It has been found that quite a number of factors influence the success of a mass media campaign, including the campaign topic, funding available, media resources used, duration of the campaign, the intended audience, and whether prior research was conducted before the commencement of the campaign. The research, conducted by both of the campaigns discussed, addressed relevant topics that dealt with issues at a large scale mass media level as well as a smaller local level. The "Excuses" campaign was found to have limited funding, which inevitably affected its ability to utilise a variety of media resources as well as affecting the duration in which the campaign was run. The intended audience of this unsuccessful campaign was also limited in comparison to the "National Illicit Drugs" campaign, which targeted not only adults but also young people as well. Prior research was used by the "National Illicit Drugs" campaign, but not for the "Excuses" campaign, to form a solid foundation for its research. Previous successful and unsuccessful campaigns, with a similar intention/topic, could be evaluated to gain a insight on what is required to make a campaign successful. Both mass media campaigns made use of the resources provided to them by their sponsors. However in the end it was found that without preparation (research), an adequate campaign issue, properly selected audience, and good financial support the outcome of a campaign would be detrimentally affected.

Appendix 1: Excuses Campaign Television and Radio Scripts

Television Script: (taken directly from Morand & Mullins, 1997)

Title ‘Excuses’ 30 seconds duration
Commercial opens on Pommy relaxing in an old style lounge chair. He notices the camera just as he pulls a cigarette from a pack. Initial embarrassment is quickly replaced by a prickly defensive attitude. Pommy tries not to pay too much attention to the facts being laid out in front of him but he keeps getting drawn into the teletype supers that précis (a concise or abridged statement) the voiceover he is hearing. While he manages to put on a brave face as he comes up with a new excuse, his fences fall each time the voice-over replies.
Pommy: “Give up smoking? It’s too late for me.”
Voice Over: Even if you have smoked for forty years you can benefit from quitting.
Pommy: “I’ll put on weight.”
Voice Over: You might but you don’t have to
Pommy: “But it relaxes me!!”
Voice Over: Each cigarette actually increases your blood pressure and heart rate. It can relax you to death.
Pommy: “Everything’s dangerous today.”
Voice Over: Smoking kills more Australians than road accidents, alcohol and all other drugs combined. So even if you’re just thinking about giving up smoking - call on Quit 131848

Radio Script: (taken directly from (Morand & Mullins, 1997)

Scripts of 60 second radio commercials

If you’ve never been a smoker – don’t even try to make sense of it. ‘Cause if you’ve spent a bit of time attached to the rear end of a lit cigarette – you’ll appreciate the grim logic of it. There you are, you’re a perfectly sane, capable adult, and you find yourself saying things like, ‘I can’t give up smoking because I’ll put on weight’. Put on weight! As if this is a fate worse than death! Those people in fact, who do put on weight when they quit, they usually lose it anyway but that’s not the point is it? Any excuse is better than none, because when you give up the excuses – there’s nothing between you and having to give up the cigarettes. And to heck with cancer or heart attacks – it’s the idea of giving up that’s terrifying. So even if you’re just thinking about it, don’t go it alone. Call on Quit - 131848. See how they could help you through. 131848. Call on Quit for help – that’s what they’re there for.

I enjoy it
If you’ve never been a smoker, you can’t hope to really comprehend the predicament. First you get used to holding a little roll of tobacco with a fire at one end, and then you feel completely empty handed without it. Off balance. Next you find yourself forced to defend it and hear yourself say really deep stuff like – ‘Why? Because I enjoy it! I really like smoking.’ Like it? Well – anyway – you keep on because you’re hooked, and the relief of getting a hit is a kind of pleasure. But that’s not the issue is it? Any excuse is better than none because when you give up the excuses – the next step is having to give up the cigarettes. And that’s serious. Who knows about lung cancer or heart attack – the thing you do know is – the thought of giving up is really awful. So, even if you’re just thinking about it, don’t go it alone. Call on Quit – 131848. See how they could help you through. 131848. Call on Quit for help – that’s what they’re there for.

It relaxes me
People who don’t smoke don’t realise what it’s like – when you are a smoker, you get into a real catch. For instance – when everything’s chaos – you stop – light a cigarette and you get a bit of perspective. So, of course you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Smoking’s really relaxing. I’d be stressed if I didn’t smoke’. The fact that every cigarette totally stresses out your body – as it tries to deal with the poisons – well, that’s not the catch. The real catch is that you can want to give up, but you drag up any excuse not to – because giving up is a serious worry. To hell with cancer – it’s the thought of giving up that’s scary! So, if you’re just thinking about it – don’t go it alone. Call on Quit –
131848. See how they can help you through. 131848. Call on Quit for help – that’s what they’re there for.

Appendix 2: Characteristics of Effective Campaigns
1. A strong and sustained presence over time (WLF, 2008)
· Campaigns that have been most effective have run over a long period of time (WLF, 2008)
· Sponsors realise the importance of continual refreshing the same message to stimulate behaviour change (WLF, 2008)
Adequate funding (WLF, 2008)
· Limited funding essentially limits what can and cannot be achieved such as:
o How long the campaign runs for
o What resources can be used
o Who can be involved
o The extent of reach to the specific audience
Integrate communication components (WLF, 2008)
· Use a wide range of communication techniques such as advertising, public relations, community-based programs and events (WLF, 2008)
The campaign is integral to a wider control programme (WLF, 2008)
· The campaign should reinforce and increase the impact of other campaigns with the same message (WLF, 2008)
The campaign is part of a long-term strategic plan (WLF, 2008)
· Choosing the most effective initiatives which can be delivered with regards to funding and staffing arrangements (WLF, 2008)
Strong creative material used (WLF, 2008)
· Having a powerful message that will stimulate motivation (WLF, 2008), something that will really strike or impact upon the intended audience
Cultural acceptability (WLF, 2008)
· It is unlikely that a campaign will be equally effective with all cultural/ethic populations/groups so a campaigns needs to be tailored made so it is culturally appropriate for the target audience while not offending others (WLF, 2008)
Thorough pre and post evaluation of the campaign (WLF, 2008)
· Research and evaluation is necessary in order to find what is effective and what it not, how a campaign can be best structured to be successful and have the greatest impact possible (WLF, 2008)

Appendix 3: National Illicit Drugs Campaign - success rate of each Mass Media resource (Aimed at Mainstream and NESB):
Table_2.jpg (Bertram et al, 2003, p6)

Appendix 4: National Illicit Drugs Strategy "Tough on Drug" evidence of Success
  • We have some evidence that the commitment, of more than $625 million, is working:
    • fewer people are not using illicit drugs - the 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey reports a 23% reduction in the proportion of people using illicit drugs;

    • fewer people are dying of overdoses - the Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported a 23% reduction in the proportion of people using illicit drugs;

    • more parents are talking to their children about drugs - 78% of parents spoke to their children about drugs during the 2001 National Illicit Drugs Campaign;

    • increased availability of treatment services - over 30,000 treatment episodes were provided in 2001-02 compared with19,000 the previous year through 140 services funded under the Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Programme;

    • the availability of new treatment options for the management of opioid dependency - including buprenorphine;

    • and increased availability of national information on drug use and markets - through the Illicit Drug Reporting System and Drug Use Monitoring in Australia projects.
(Directly taken from DEEW, 2009)