White House uses YouTube to post anti-drug campaign videos

By Jake Coyle

NEW YORK – If a PSA drops in cyberspace, does anyone hear it?

As various interests have increasingly converged on YouTube in hopes of some free, viral marketing, it came as little surprise when the White House announced earlier this week that it, too, wanted a piece of lonelygirl’s spotlight.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy posted a dozen videos at http://www.YouTube.com/ONDCP, mostly of public-service commercials on the dangers of drug use from the “above the influence” campaign, as seen on TV.

As of Wednesday, the ONDCP channel had received a scant 53 subscribers and a total of 14,463 views, a relatively low total. How the youthful, rebellious Web is responding to the ONDCP’s efforts is perhaps hinted at by the mirror site, http://www.ondcp.com, which recasts the acronym as “oppressive network drug content propaganda.”

It’s true, though, that any YouTube viewings are basically gravy to the ONDCP; it costs nothing to post the clips. Still, the campaign’s numbers pale in comparison to, for example, the hundreds of thousands that have watched various videos on how to grow marijuana.

A spokesman for YouTube, which generally doesn’t regulate its user-posted videos, declined on Wednesday to discuss the site’s policy regarding videos that show illegal activity, such as drug use or drug production.

YouTube and the Web clearly present a problem for public-service announcements. On TV and on radio, PSAs typically rely on federally required play or corporations looking to bolster their image. They are inserted between entertainment –

they aren’t the entertainment, itself.

On YouTube, there are no regulations and videos make a dent with the public only if they create their own audience, thus making their way up the “most viewed” list. To help grab viewers, the government links its videos with the terms “war on drugs,” “peer-pressure,” “marijuana,” “weed,” “ONDCP” and “420” (a reference to marijuana), so anyone searching for those words on YouTube can find them.

The Ad Council, a leading PSA producer since 1942, has seen its methods change over the years and has worked to adapt to the Internet – like asking for donated ad time to play before videos.