A new anti-meth campaign sponsored by Rehabs.com features longitudinal photographs of people arrested for meth-related offenses. The pictures show how the drug impacts the aging process, depicting subjects with increasingly sunken eyes, clumpy hair, blemished and pocked skin, and receding gums. The gallery looks more like the zombie apocalypse than a public health campaign.
In fact, it’s neither. It’s advertising. Rehabs.com project manager Dan Tynski openly admits that the campaign, modeled off the Multnomah County Sheriff Office’s “Face of Meth Program,” is designed to help his website gain a share in the $4.5 billion dollar drug rehabilitation industry. Tynski says the “Horrors of Methamphetamine” was intended to go viral, spreading over social media sources and driving traffic to Rehabs.com.
The commercial nature of “Horrors of Methamphetamine” isn’t inherently problematic. A larger issue is that the campaign’s analogue, “Faces of Meth,” was found to be ineffective at discouraging drug use. Many new meth users are young, and anti-drug campaigns that use scare tactics don’t appeal to people in this demographic. They generally don’t view the ads as salient to them or view themselves as susceptible to extreme negative effects of drugs.
While public health dollars are limited, relationships between commercial entities and public health organizations can be leveraged for social good. Organizations like Health in Hollywood work to ensure that health messages in television and movies are accurate and compelling. How might those in health communication do a better job of networking with businesses to accomplish similar ends in advertising campaigns?