How The Government Wasted $1 Billion On Its Scandal-Plagued 'War Against Drugs' Ad Budget

war on drugs ondcp ad dog girl

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has lost virtually all its federally funded media budget for its “Above the Influence” anti-drugs campaign.

Check out the history of screwups at the ONDCP>>
According to Adweek, the ONDCP will rely on leftovers from the $35 million the federal government allotted them for 2011 to continue the advertisements.

But the leftovers — characterised by Mark Krawczyk, director of ONDCP’s media campaign, as “fumes in the gas tank” — will only last through spring. After that, the ONDCP and ad agency DraftFCB will have to find private funding and donated air space to continue the campaign.

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This isn’t the ONDCP’s first advertising snafu.

The government program, which was created in 1998 with a $1.2 billion dollar media budget, has often found itself in the centre of controversy, including a sub-rosa TV script-writing project, a criminal trial for overbilling the government that ended in prison time for the ad executives who worked on its campaign, and continual questions about whether the ads actually dissuaded youngsters from doing drugs.

All of that occurred before DraftFCB took over the account in 2004 and launched “Above the Influence.” That campaign has seen some success, but that progress only occurred after several skeletons were removed from the ONDCP’s closet.

Government propaganda secretly inserted into TV shows like 'ER'

A six-month investigation by Salon in 2000 revealed that the ONDCP was paying networks millions of dollars to secretly embed anti-drug messaging into their regular programming.

The money came out the Congress approved $1 billion allocation for ad-buys. Networks embedded ONDCP approved messages in their television scripts in lieu of ad slots owed to the government.

'ER' received $1.4 million worth of ad time in exchange for several episodes featuring anti-drug subplots, for instance.

The National organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Use filed a complaint against the practice, and the FCC eventually ruled that the networks would have to identify the ONDCP as a sponsor of the television programs.

The federal government went into the scriptwriting business

ESPN lets government money run its news division

ESPN participated in a similar scheme in its news programming. The sports channel agreed to air paid anti-drug commercials in addition to providing matching public service airtime of its own for anti-drug messaging.

Rather than run its own public service ads, ESPN instead offered its own news programming as a match. ESPN shows whose coverage of drug use in sports qualified for the federal government's matching money included SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, Monday Night Countdown, SportsWeekly, SportsCentury and Upclose. Topics included baseball player Darryl Strawberry's drug use.

Creating bogus news reports with taxpayer dollars

Directly before the 2004 Superbowl, local news stations across the country aired a story about the dangers of drug abuse. Viewers didn't know the video was produced not by a journalist, but by the ONDCP. Or that their tax dollars had paid for it.

The pre-packaged reports came complete with a suggested intro for anchors to read.

In 2005, the Government Accountability Office announced that the ONDCP had violated domestic propaganda prohibitions.

The ONDCP's ad agency executives go to prison

Thomas Early and Shona Seifert were sentenced to 14 and 18 months in federal prison, respectively, for defrauding the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2005.

The former directors at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather overcharged the ONDCP for anti-drug advertisements to cover a $3 million revenue shortfall on the billion-dollar account. In an email, Seifert wrote, 'I'll wring the money out of them. I promise.'

That email, and billing documents that showed Seifert had changed the billable hours of her employees' timesheets, proved Seifert was 'at the heart and the pinnacle of the conspiracy' to overbill the government, the judge said at the time.

ONDCP censored responses on YouTube

Didn't like that ad about how your talking dog will scold you if you smoke pot? Tough. In 2006, the ONDCP removed the ability to rate or comment on PSAs posted on YouTube following a slew of low ratings and negative video responses.

No clear evidence that the ads were effective

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