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Volume 8 – Winter 2015

The case of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: a critical analysis from a strategic communication perspective.

Janey G. Trowbridge, PhD,1 Jagadish Thaker, PhD.2
Cases in Public Health Communication & Marketing. 2015;8:136-169.

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Communication Studies, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX., USA.
2 School of Communication, Journalism & Marketing, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


Background: Unprecedented in size and scope, the US Government’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has been extensively evaluated and widely analyzed. Statistical analyses have shown that the Phase III campaign (1999-2004) had no impact on youth beliefs and behaviors related to marijuana use, the primary campaign focus, and may have contributed to increased drug use among youth who reported being exposed to the campaign.

Methods: In this study, we retrospectively evaluated the campaign from a strategic communication perspective, which considers the alignment between four critical stages: a campaign’s formative research, strategy and tactics, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. In effectively managed campaigns, these four processes should guide the decisions made and actions taken in the subsequent stages. To assess the campaign, we conducted and analyzed in-depth interviews with thirteen, highly involved stakeholders and reviewed and conducted content analysis of available public documents and peer-reviewed journal articles.

Results: Results showed that at each stage of the campaign, targeting parents was properly aligned and effectively informed the next. Conversely, the larger youth-targeted campaign component suffered from misalignments, including the following: a poor fit between the campaign strategy and the emphasis on television advertising; a lack of effective communication with internal and external stakeholders within and across stages; poorly sequenced executional elements; and imbalances between competing political, social science, and marketing practice paradigms.

Conclusion: This analysis complements and helps provide a context for potentially understanding the findings of prior outcome evaluations of the campaign and a basis for making recommendations to improve the strategic communication processes of future government-sponsored public health interventions. (Full-text PDF)


  • • Health campaigns
  • • Mass media
  • • Marijuana
  • • Adolescent
  • • Parents

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