The Worst Anti-Drug Ads Of All Time Reviewed

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With the NSW government cracking down on music festivals and other politicians across Australia freaking out about drug use, we thought we’d look back at how drug issues were tackled through the decades.

Here is a summary of some of the best, worst and funniest drug prevention videos between the 1970s and today.


1970s



The 1970s created the character of the ‘pusher man’ – an unidentified adult male who would go around trying to give drugs to kids. In this ad we see him wander into a playground where he meets his nemesis: the annoying know-it-all kid who apparently reads about drug effects while other kids read fairytales.

The weird part of this ad is that the pusher man switches between pro- and anti-drugs. He starts off handing around drug after drug, but simultaneously agrees with the boy about health concerns. He is disappointed when the kids leave without taking anything, but then says the ads catchphrase: ‘why do you think they call it dope?’ (a.k.a. take that smokers, you’re a dope – pretty insulting stuff).


1980s



What can I say … WOW. The ‘80s brought us one of life’s most joyous gifts: the soothing voice of Michael Jordan telling us not to take drugs. A hypnotic jingle accompanies his dulcet tones as he lulls us all to sleep. Oh wait, sorry, convinces us all not to take drugs. Ahem.

McDonald’s sponsored this ad which is interesting because what about all the 3am drunk and stoned customers? There was actually a scientific study in America (by the Green Market Report and Consumer Research Around Cannabis) which found that 43% of respondents to their survey would choose Macca’s over any other fast food outlet. Oh well, we all know the ad hasn’t worked.



Michael Jordan wasn’t the only basketballer making videos against drugs. The entire LA Lakers team did their best to one-up MJ in 1987, putting together a FOUR MINUTE rap. Each player’s solo is well worth the watch and you’ll have ‘just say no, just say no to drugs’ stuck in your head for a week.



Not all ‘80s ads were made by sports stars though. This one showed us very scientifically how drugs affect our brains… well not quite.

What this ad DID show us was 1) a cute lil frypan; 2) exquisite egg cracking skills; and 3) a flashback to those high school teachers that would ask ‘any questions’ as more of a threat than a gateway to learning.


1990s



The ‘90s saw a real switch to focusing on kids in anti-drug campaigns. And not just being worried about them getting given drugs by scary adults. No, ads now were accusing kids of being the pushers. One ad asked us to look at a class of elementary school students and figure out which of these tiny little smiling children is hooking all their classmates up with drugs. “It’s hard to believe” the ad says, and yes, it is. I obviously was lucky to go to a child-drug-trafficker-free primary school.

This ad is annoying because all it will do is make parents more paranoid and over-protective than they already are and break up childhood friendships. Awesome.



There was also this cartoon that presumably aired during the after-school programs on the kids’ channel and taught children that taking drugs means they’ll think chickens have stripes. Upon researching chickens, some actually look pretty close to having stripes so yeah. And no, I’m not high right now, look up ‘Barred Rock chickens’.



This last ad from the ‘90s takes the cake for worst drug prevention ad. Lead singer for band Everclear talks about how drugs wasted his life while orange flashing lights and blurry, slightly unstable footage make you feel like you’re stoned watching it. The ad then finishes with the singer saying: “don’t listen to me, don’t listen to anybody, figure out for yourself”. Okay, sure dude. Everyone carry on taking drugs while you ‘figure it out’.

Maybe he was being sarcastic though. I hope anyway, just for the sake of the advertisers.


2000s



The new century brought new responsibility for parents’ role in preventing drug use and abuse. A campaign was launched which labelled parents as ‘the anti-drug’ and showed their kids demanding to be restrained from taking drugs. The kid in the ad seems pretty self-aware but determined to act out if ignored. Regardless of issue, parents talking to their kids about what’s up is never a bad thing.



This ad spread the responsibility to all adults in the community and shows us random people who can do incredible things like read, listen and drive a car! Imagine if people who took drugs could read or listen or drive – they’d be instantly healed!




Marijuana = you will shoot your friend. That’s just a fact, according to this ad which shows a stoned boy find his dad’s loaded gun in a desk drawer and accidentally shooting his also high friend. This ad definitely has the shock factor though.



The ‘00s also had this pretty good vid. Drugs and sport seem to be linked a little too tightly these days, but it is no surprise to see another ad using people’s desire to be sport stars to try prevent drug use. This ad commentates the kids evasion of his drug pushing friend (okay, these drug trafficker kids do exist) and really makes him out as a hero. The instant replay showing his movements is funny and in some ways actually gives a ‘gameplan’ to follow for avoiding drugs.


2010s

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Recent ads have taken the fear approach, no longer just educating audiences but showing them the terrifying consequences drugs have on drug users, their friends, families and emergency services. This ad is pretty confronting in getting its message across.



On the flip side, we have a new emphasis on stopping people drug driving, including this ad which shows a pretty responsible man refusing glasses of wine so that he is okay to drive, but forgetting about the illicit drugs he took however many days ago. The ad’s pretty effective in its message but you can’t help mostly just wondering what happens to poor old grandma who’s left alone in the car while the police whisk her son away.


The bottom line


Each decade had a pretty clear theme of who they were targeting as either the problem or the solution in the ‘drug epidemic’ governments always think they’re suffering. Probably the main thing all these videos show, though, is that they haven’t made much difference to drug taking over the years. It might be time to find a new approach to keep people safe.


This article was written by journalist April Austen. If she has free time she’ll be at the beach. Otherwise, she might be on Twitter @aprilausten.

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