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Anti-Pot "Don't Be a Lab Rat" Campaign Uses Disputed Facts That Might Be True

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Mike Sukle, the advertising agency pro who worked with Colorado officials to develop a new anti-pot campaign, had a significant challenge on his hands. He wanted to warn teens away from marijuana use without engaging in the sort of hyperbole they'd likely reject. Hence, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," which presents controversial facts and then asks viewers the equivalent of "Wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry?"

Continue for more details from Sukle, plus additional photos and videos.

See also: Videos: "Drive High, Get a DUI" Campaign Uses a (Mostly) Lighter Touch to Fight Stoned Driving

The campaign, which launched this week, sports a slew of components, including a website, as well as interactive theater ads and TV public-service announcements (see both below) and rat cage installations that will pop up at various locations, including Denver Central Library and Red Rocks concerts such as Fall Out Boy and Paramore tonight and Jack White on August 20.

Sukle, founder and creative director for Sukle Advertising & Design, describes the concept's genesis like so.

"We understood from the get-go that this would be an incredibly daunting effort," notes Sukle, whose agency also came up with the "Don't Be That Guy" ads for Denver Water -- including the Vladimir Putin-like image that had to be pulled after last month's deadly plane crash in the Ukraine. "Anywhere kids look now, the buzz is all about marijuana. So we did a study with kids across the state -- sat down and had conversations with them about the substance: if they didn't use it, if they did...and if so, how it fit into their lives. And then we talked about specific messaging and ideas.

"The campaign that's up now isn't something we took to the kids," he acknowledges. "It resulted from talking with them. And the thing that was most important to them was the harm it does to their brain. They were surprised by that. They see their brains as a really important element to who they are and they want to protect that."

Additionally, Sukle goes on, "the kids wanted the facts. One kid was like, 'Don't sugar-coat anything for us. Don't come out and try to scare us. We want facts.' So we looked into the research, the studies that were done. And the campaign really just presents those studies to kids."

Sukle concedes that "the whole science of developing brains and the effects marijuana has is in its infancy. While there's a pretty good set of research, a lot of people dispute it. They don't believe it. So we wanted to be very honest and straight-forward -- to say, 'Here's a study, people dispute it, but do you really want to take that chance? Don't be a lab rat. People are going to be watching you to either prove or disprove these studies.'"

Continue for more about the "Don't Be a Lab Rat" campaign, including two videos. The approach represents a softer sell than another anti-drug campaign Sukle oversaw.

"My agency has done a lot of work in substance abuse, including a campaign in Wyoming for meth -- and that one was easy," he allows. For example, "we did photos of faces or arms where you could literally peel the skin off, because that's what happens to meth users. But marijuana isn't that: Kids don't see it as a drastic, life-threatening substance. So we didn't want to be scaring them and throwing up things that weren't facts -- things they could later disprove."

The agency also wanted to reach teens where they congregate both virtually and physically. Hence, the theater concept, which Sukle says "is going to be interesting, because it'll really involve the audience.

"The first thing you'll hear is a voice that says, 'Please answer the following questions.' And on-screen, the questions will super up. The first will say, 'Are you a teenager?' We anticipate that kids will raise their hands and hoot and holler a little. Then the second question will ask, 'Have you ever smoked weed?' And then it'll get into one of the facts about smoking marijuana and the brain."

Here's one of the theater ads:

Don't Be a Lab Rat's Anti-Pot Theater Ad from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

The TV spot is more traditional: A camera swoops around a car filled with toking teens -- a corollary to the rat-in-a-cage notion -- as graphics spell out reasons for steering clear of pot. That clip is below.

According to Sukle, the campaign "will run for two months, and we'll be doing a tracking and evaluation study to gauge kids' reactions to the ads. And then we'll do a quantitative study that will assess awareness levels and perceptions of risks regarding the substance."

After that, he continues, analysts will try to determine if "we're seeing changes in behaviors -- but it'll be a little down the road before we see that start to move."

Here's the TV commercial.

Don't Be a Lab Rat's Anti-Pot TV Ad from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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