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Anti-opioid ad campaign will come with challenges

Success will depend on cultural change

MADISON, Wis. - Two experts with 70 years’ experience in the advertising industry believe a successful ad campaign to combat the opioid epidemic can be achieved, but it will come with challenges.

“Behavioral change is a far more complicated proposition,” said Jennifer Savino, co-owner of KW2, an advertising agency in Madison that has worked on behavioral change ad campaigns.

Savino says the complexity of the opioid crisis will require a complex advertising approach.

“This really has to be sort of a two-pronged approach where we talk about effective treatments for people that are engaging in this behavior, and then we also have to look at effective ways to get people to not engage in the first place,” said Savino.

The approach is also complicated because opioid addiction crosses demographics and geographic boundaries. 

“There are different reasons why people are starting and so you have to really break apart the reasons why people are starting, right down to high school students and why they think it is cool to take prescription drugs,” said Savino.

Thomas O’Guinn, a marketing and advertising professor at UW-Madison says the ad campaign will seek a cultural change.

“It is not like we need people to understand that opioids are bad.  Everybody understands they are bad.  It is getting it to be culturally unacceptable to use drugs.  It is making opioids uncool,” said O’Guinn, who has been in the advertising industry for 40 years.

The anti-tobacco and stop-smoking ad campaigns have shown success in changing culture.  Cigarette use in the U.S. has been reduced to 15 percent, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  But it took nearly a half century of anti-smoking ad campaigns to achieve that success.

“It takes an awful long time because you have to change the culture along with everything else.  That’s very, very hard to do.” said O’Guinn.

Because the opioid epidemic is so widespread, Savino believes many stakeholders involved in the issue will have to come to the table and be part of an effective campaign.

It will also take time and a financial investment.

“I think it can work, but I think we have to make a commitment to back it up with real dollars,” said Savino.


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