Anti-drug ad campaign focuses on reality

April 05, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials are launching an ambitious $2 million media campaign that will urge residents to fight drugs and crime, and try to alter the psychological fabric of city life.

The 13-week campaign, which officials will unveil at a news conference today at Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore, will begin Monday with a four-minute television spot that is intended to shock residents into seeing the reality of the city's problems.

The campaign continues with a two-page advertisement - a "Declaration of Independence from Drugs" - in The Sun on April 14.

In the following weeks, four television advertisements will address issues ranging from drug trafficking to drug abuse and police recruiting - each spot offering a phone number that connects callers to operators who can offer information. The campaign is being financed by the Baltimore Police Foundation, a private fund that closely supports the city Police Department.

It is unclear how successful the campaign will be at dislodging a drug culture that permeates the city, where nearly 60,000 residents are addicts.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, a strong backer of the campaign, said the campaign will encourage people to take action, which will help police reduce violence and drug trafficking.

"We are very optimistic that it will work," Norris said. "The problems here are so acute. ... The police can't fix this. ... We want to mobilize the community to take responsibility."

The campaign's architect, John Linder, said the advertising will succeed because the first spot confronts viewers with the gritty and honest side of Baltimore, establishing credibility with viewers.

"People won't listen until you do that," said Linder, president of Linder & Associates, a consulting firm.

Subsequent ads will be more upbeat and show that the city is improving, and that all residents have a role to play in its growth, Linder said.

Outside experts said the campaign could be successful because it starts by shocking people with reality, a proven technique to reach television viewers who often ignore advertisements.

"These advertisements get people to stop and think," said Joe O'Donnell, a marketing professor at Towson University. "When you throw reality at people, they recognize it, associate with it right away. They start thinking about it."

The four-minute movie begins by showing images of the city at night: a man standing over the fire in an oil drum, a homeless man under a bridge, an open door to an abandoned rowhouse.

A boy begins to speak: "I know that there is a fire in me that nobody can put out." A camera follows the boy walking down a dimly lighted street, past young thugs. The boy then says that a guy on a street corner asked him to hold something for $100.

Two men portraying suburbanites driving to the city to buy drugs then pull up in a car, and one of them reaches out to the boy. "A guy from the county thinks I'm a drug dealer," he says, "all they think I'll ever be."

Near the end of the spot, a man's voice says: "The people of Baltimore are in a fight, a fight that in some places we're losing."

"The fight is not over," the man says.

Then, the words - "Believe, Believe in us, Believe in yourself, Baltimore, Believe" - flash in succession on the screen.

The police foundation will air that advertisement several times on local television stations during the next two weeks, as well as a one-minute condensed version.

The foundation then will air four other advertisements, including one that will urge drug addicts to seek treatment and another that encourages people to volunteer as mentors to children.

All will offer a telephone number to a call center, where operators will direct people to help or information.

Anticipating a flood of calls for drug treatment, city health officials added 85 additional drug treatment slots, boosting the total to about 7,700. Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner, said he was not worried about a crush of people demanding treatment.

Counselors at the call center will have access to up-to-date information on the amount of open drug slots and backlogs, he said. They also will have a list of more than 400 Narcotics Anonymous groups, some of which hold meetings all day long.

"It's time we had a campaign that highlights that this is everybody's problem," Beilenson said.

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