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January 5, 2006 - New Haven Register (CT)

Column: Buzz Factor

What Do We Learn About Drugs From Public Service Announcements?

By Susan E. Rice

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

In 1987 the famous image of the egg and the frying pan was seared into our collective conscience.

Let's all say it together -- This is your brain (hold up egg). This your brain on drugs (crack egg in frying pan). The commercial operated on a scare tactic philosophy and was targeted at the potential drug user -- teenagers and young adults.

Fast forward to 2005 and the image is of small schoolboy singing a nursery rhyme.

Bah bah black sheep, have you any E? Yes sir, yes sir, first hit's free. They push it on the children, they push it every day. They push it on the little boy that lives down the way. Bah bah black sheep, have you any E? Yes sir, yes sir, first hit's free.

Very clever. One problem. This pleasant little ditty is now being sung by school children who heard it on the television, and think it's cute. Do they understand what they are saying? No. Would they be singing these words with this message without the help of this public service announcement (PSA)? No.

This an example of an advertising concept gone seriously awry. Children are wonderful little mimics. Ask any parent who has let slip a few choice words. Their four-year-old is very quick to fling that colorful expletive right back at them. Nursery rhymes are designed to be simple and catchy so children can remember and understand them. What will a child understand from this song? Beats me.

Should we be concerned about drug pushers reaching into our school yards and polluting the brains of young children. Absolutely. Is this the best way to reach parents - because it is the parents that need to be reached - about the lure and pervasiveness of the drug culture? Probably not. In an attempt to be "creative" advertisers often forget that adults can actually think. How does this tune sound to you.

A, B, C, D, PCP, E or X and THC, Special K and LSD, Gs and H and GHB. Now I know my drugs you see, next time won't you sing with me?

Familiar, right? In this example a little girl is reciting the ABCs of the drug code. The creative team over at Partnership for a Drug Free America at has really been working overtime on these ads.

Apparently these little songs are supposed to touch the hearts of parents and get them to understand that young children already know a lot about drugs. This will compel them to teach their children about the dangerous side effects of drug use at a younger age. The PSA runs on such child-friendly networks as Nickelodeon. What's great about this channel is that children can watch most shows with little or no parental supervision. What does that mean for these ads? There is no one watching them along with the child to put them into context.

That seems to be a problem with a lot of PSAs. A couple years ago buying marijuana was portrayed as being the same thing as sponsoring terrorism? President George Bush even spoke out saying that by not doing drugs, we were helping the war on terrorism. (If that is the case, then I have done my part to help the war on terrorism, and so have my friends. Does that bring any more soldiers home? Thought not.) Applying that logic, every child in America using drugs is a mini-terrorist. Teenagers can be frightening, but that is going a bit far.

Reading comments on the Internet responding to the nursery-rhyme PSAs, a common theme seems to be emerging. Parents are more frightened by the fact that their child is now running around the house singing these happy, little tunes than they are by the chance that their preschooler might fall into the hands of a drug lord. Can you blame them?

Parents are irritated that who the first person to talk to their child about the dangers of drugs and when they should hear this message wasn't made by them. The drug watchdogs took that decision away from parents. Advocacy groups would say that parents have been negligent, and wait too long to start talking to their children. I can believe that.

So try this -- talk to the parents. Run the ads on adult programs with messages for adults. In the meantime, not only will children continue to think "LMNOP" is one letter, but now they add PCP, LSD, GHB and THC to the list .

If you are hearing or seeing, just don't understand, or are curious about a pop-culture trend or subject, then email me at or call (715) 924-4118. You can leave a message or talk to me directly. No names are required. I will search down an answer for you, and publish what I know. This way, we can all be up on the latest buzz.

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