Lulu Rodriguez, Greenlee School, (515) 294-0484
Dale Woolery, Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa, (515) 242-6391
Steve Sullivan, News Service, (515) 294-3720


AMES, Iowa -- Iowans are taking notice of anti-drug public service ads, a new Iowa State University study indicates.

The effectiveness of public service advertisements by the Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa (PDFI) was evaluated by a team of graduate and undergraduate students led by Lulu Rodriguez, associate professor in Iowa State's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. The evaluation was commissioned by PDFI.

The team conducted a statewide survey to measure the ads' impact on the public's knowledge and attitudes about illegal drugs, as well as their influence on behavior. The group also conducted focus groups with Iowa high school students.

The survey indicated that more than 90 percent of the 553 respondents recalled hearing or seeing a PDFI public service ad and could remember its message. In general, respondents were able to remember scenes in the ads, and could name a slogan or message from the anti-drug ads, said Rodriguez.

More than 66 percent of the respondents agreed that drug prevention ads made them more aware of the risks of using drugs. The majority of the respondents also indicated that the ads made them more aware that families should be concerned about Iowa's drug problem. Approximately 65 percent recalled the ads' message regarding the need to talk to children about the dangers of drugs.

Nearly a quarter of those exposed to the ads said they had learned something new, while nearly half said they had been reminded of things they had forgotten. More than half of the respondents said the ads made them feel a responsibility to stay away from drugs.

The findings are interesting because most communication research indicates that these types of public service campaigns have little effect, said Rodriquez.

The ads also had some influence on behavior, said Rodriguez. Nearly one-fourth of the respondents had taken action to assist in the statewide effort to curb drug use after exposure to the ads. Among actions cited were contacting legislators or talking to young people about drugs.

The survey also found that respondents think parents who have children under 18 are likely to think drugs are a problem and are willing to talk to their children about it. However, only about half of the parents with teenagers indicated that they had talked to their children about drugs in the six months prior to the survey.

The group plans to re-survey the respondents in February to determine if exposure to PDFI public service ads has had a lasting impact.

To measure the impact of the ads on teenagers, the Iowa State research team did focus groups with high school students from Roland-Story City, Gilbert and Nevada high schools.

"The focus groups indicated that teens think drug use is one of Iowa's biggest problems, which is an indication that the ad campaign has been effective in getting messages about drug issues out to the public," said Rodriguez. "The participants agreed that the drug issue needs to be addressed with drug-prevention campaigns such as this one sponsored by the Partnership. It appears that the campaign has been successful in making Iowans in general aware of drug abuse as a social issue."

Other notable findings based on input from the teen focus groups:
  • PDFI ads work to keep many people from trying drugs. Reaching young people with anti-drug messages is a worthy goal.
  • Teens get most of their anti-drug messages from radio. (Adults, according to the survey, get most of their information from television.)
  • Teens find few connections between their circumstances and those of celebrity spokespeople used in anti-drug ads.
  • Teens are exposed to marijuana more often than any other illegal drug.
  • Teens perceive parents as lacking knowledge regarding drugs and believe parents are ill equipped to discuss drugs with them.

"The Iowa State study confirms that public service advertising can be a very effective tool for increasing knowledge and shaping attitudes about illegal drugs, leading more people to get involved in preventing drug use," said Dale Andringa, president and chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa. "A lot of credit for the success of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa goes to the hundreds of media partners and financial supporters who make the public service campaign possible."


Iowa State homepage

University Relations,
Copyright © 1999-2000, Iowa State University, all rights reserved