Feds Post Anti-Drug Videos On YouTube

Following in the footsteps of commercial marketers and politicians, the federal government has realized the potential value of YouTube as a platform for disseminating messages to young people. Last week, the White House quietly began posting anti-drug ads from TV on the popular video-sharing site.

But the feds still face some major obstacles, according to media execs who have worked with YouTube on unrelated projects.

So far the government has posted 12 videos, including 9 anti-drug ads and 3 clips from speeches given by Walters on the subject. The most popular ad, centering on an ill-advised encounter with a junkyard dog resulting from intoxication, had received 2,003 views as of Tuesday evening.

"Public institutions must adapt to meet the realities of these promising technologies," President Bush's top drug-policy adviser John Walters said at a press conference Tuesday, explaining the administration's decision to harness YouTube.

Clearly, the ads have stirred interest on YouTube--but it's still unclear whether the videos have real viral appeal, meaning the feds face yet another uphill battle in the war on drugs.

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Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, said the ads are too straightforward to gain much traction on YouTube. "They're not especially jarring, since they're designed for television, so they're not the kind of things that work as viral video," said Schafer, who has worked with YouTube to promote new movies. "They're very professionally produced, and there's nothing subversive about the descriptions, which give away exactly what the clips are."

The ads also face difficulty on YouTube, where new content can easily fall into an anonymous sea of content. Search terms that could lead users to the anti-drug ads are far more likely to lead them to the much larger volume of pro-drug content, Schafer said, including do-it-yourself tutorials in marijuana cultivation and literally hundreds of spoof anti-drug ads. A YouTube search for the term "marijuana," for example, unearthed a satire of a well-known campaign from a few years ago, titled "Marijuana: My Anti-Drug."

Schafer said the most effective way of drawing attention to content in the YouTube universe is creating a YouTube channel and buying ad spots on the site to drive traffic to it--as Deep Focus did recently for a new movie from Dimension Films, "Pulse." Schafer explained: "The challenge historically was how do we take advantage of YouTube, not just as a vehicle for distribution, but for promotion? Now we can put video content on the site, pay for the promotion of it, and hopefully get some viral traction--all without interrupting the user experience, which is really the whole point."

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