Do you remember the old, anti-drug public service announcement from the 1980’s?
“This is your brain,”
(holding an egg)
“this is drugs,”
(holding a hot pan)
“this is your brain in drugs.”
(loud sizzling, as your brain fries)
That was from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Now, 3 decades later, the organization is known as the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and they’ve revolutionized their original fried-egg PSA for modern times.
Fried Egg 2016 Campaign
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is a national nonprofit, committed to helping families struggling with their son or daughter’s substance use. They provide informational resources about drugs and alcohol, advocate for improvements in addiction treatment, and offer direct services for families through their helpline: 1-855-DRUGFREE.
Their new ad starts out where the old PSA left off: your egg-brain is frying in a hot pan of drugs when the narrator asks, “Any questions?”
But, this time around, the question isn’t rhetorical. The ad transitions into a series of kids who—um, yeah—have some questions about drugs and alcohol:
- “Prescription drugs aren’t as bad as street drugs, right?”
- “Weed’s legal, isn’t it?”
- “Drinking is worse than smoking weed, isn’t it?”
- “Why is heroin so addictive?”
- “Molly just makes you happy. What’s wrong with that?”
- “Mom, Dad—did you ever try drugs?”
They’re not simple, but today’s kids are looking for answers. The PSA ends with, “They’re going to ask. Be ready,” and directs parents to the Partnership’s website for the answers to those exact questions.
A New Approach
Their old anti-drug PSA has been “re-envisioned to reflect parenting today and the change in perceptions and awareness about drug use,” according to Rebecca Shaw, Director of Advertising and Production at the Partnership.
Our understanding of drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure have all gotten more complex. Prescription drugs run rampant in homes and families, some states have legalized weed, we’re in the midst of an opioid epidemic, more people are dying from overdoses than car accidents.
The Partnership wants to show just how complicated being a kid today can be, facing so many conflicting messages about substances: from school, peers, TV, music, the internet. The hope is that kids will come to their parents with questions.
The Partnership actually used input from parents seeking help to develop the questions in this new ad. Parenting styles have changed, conversations with kids are becoming more open, and parents are more involved in their kids’ lives.
The goal of the Fried Egg 2016 Campaign is to connect with parents—who probably remember the old fried egg PSA from the ‘80s, and now are hearing these questions from their kids. The Partnership wants to increase awareness about the problems kids face. Kristi Rowe, the chief marketing officer of Partnership for Drug-Free Kids said, “We want them to know that we have resources to help them.”
Improvements on the Old
Compared with older anti-drug PSAs, the new ad has obvious improvements—better visuals, a faster pace. Most importantly, the new message is that drug education needs to be a conversation.
Let’s look back at the old approaches.
In the 1980s, “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” wasn’t intended to elicit any actual questions.
The message was straightforward, in-your-face, black-and-white: “Drugs are dangerous.” It reiterated the same, tired ultimatum from Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No” campaign, which influenced drug policies and anti-drug efforts like the D.A.R.E. program in schools.
Then, In the 1990s, the Partnership tried to reach young people with a more intense message, coming from a fellow young person—Rachael Leigh Cook.
This time, the focus was on the addictive and destructive powers of heroin in the lives of teens.
There are plenty of other PSAs from the Partnership, but the earlier ads all reinforce a similar idea: Drugs will fry your brain. It’s simple—just don’t do them.
Staying away from drugs and alcohol is a very smart idea for young people, but these older ads were too simplistic and naïve to truly inspire positive change. The frying egg metaphor was used as a scare tactic, yet no actual information was given to kids. The focus on the vague fear of frying your brain with drugs kept kids skeptical: Well, why do so many people still do drugs?
This is also the first PSA campaign that is aimed specifically at parents. Though studies of anti-drug mass media campaigns in the past have shown minimal or no positive effects, parent-directed ads might be more effective. Parents are aware of the risks that go along with drug use, more receptive to the information the Partnership offers, and motivated to help their kids.
Older ads kept the conversation about drugs closed. Questions from kids were not welcomed. The 2016 Fried Egg Campaign opens the door for those questions. It takes a more realistic perspective on the prevalence of drugs in our culture and acknowledges substance abuse as a possibility for kids.
The Partnership now has tried to provide that real, useful information on their website. It uses less fear-mongering and more personal empowerment through drug education.
The Partnership’s Website
When you go to the Partnership’s website, you can find their suggested answers for the very questions posed in the new PSA. Their answers are well-informed, useful, and give an honest perspective on the reality kids face with drugs.
They offer safety tips, like learning how to safeguard and dispose of prescription medications. They offer helpful information: the myth of Molly being “pure” when it’s actually cut with other substances; the way heroin can create brain changes that lead to addiction; the potentially adverse effects of marijuana on the still-developing teen brain.
The Partnership still has a clear and honorable agenda: to help parents keep their kids drug-free.
They’ve evolved from outdated scare tactics, and now hone in on information about the risks and dangers of drug use. The site encourages parents to voice their disapproval with drug use, the same way they’d disapprove of using alcohol or cigarettes. They suggest that parents focus on the negative aspects of past drug experiences when talking to their kids, or why drugs did not fit into their lives.
The Partnership remains a solid advocate for addiction treatment, and their site does a good job of acknowledging the reality of addiction. They discuss the role that mental health disorders, trauma, and family history can play in developing a drug or alcohol problem.
Above all, kudos to the Partnership for encouraging parents to be honest. It may seem easier for parents to give their kids a censored version of their past drug use, or to tell them “just don’t do it.” The reality is, honesty and education go further to help kids make informed decisions and ask for help when they need it.
For Parents, Looking for Answers
To be fully informed, parents have to consult a variety of sources, information, and websites. Marsha Rosenbaum, founder of Safety First at the Drug Policy Alliance, says, “Make sure that…what you’re telling your kids are actually true, based on solid science.”
Although the Partnership mentions “scientific evidence,” it does not cite any. Much of the information is brief and limited. The purpose of the Partnership’s site obviously isn’t to be a thorough, scientific resource on drug use. But, it’s important to answer kids’ hard questions with solid, factual information if parents want to combat their skepticism.
The Partnership advocates for parental disapproval, which can be powerful in moderating kids’ behavior. But, it all depends on an individual’s parenting style. In some families, support and understanding might go further than blatant disapproval.
Some kids are curious, or have already tried drugs. Trying to scare them or blatantly disapproving of something they’ve already done can be polarizing. They might become rebellious in retaliation and stop listening. If kids fear disappointing their family, they might think their parents “can’t understand” and shut them out.
Having an open conversation is half the battle. Each family and situation is different.
“Just say no” seems easy, but the reality is complicated. Of course parents want to keep their kids drug-free, and the Partnership has a wealth of resources to help families.
Rosenbaum from the Drug Policy Alliance says that, if kids have started using drugs already, the best approach is education and harm-reduction—talk to kids about the risks, as well as how to stay safe if they do choose to use drugs.