POLITICS

Anti-drug campaign a hit for focus groups, Health Canada finds

01/28/2015 11:03 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT
A controversial anti-drug campaign that claimed marijuana use could lower IQ was seen as "informative and non-judgmental" by both parents and teens, according to Health Canada.

But the full report on the reaction that the "creative concepts" garnered during cross-country focus groups conducted last fall won't be available until later this year.

That's the gist of the government's response to a written parliamentary question filed by Liberal MP Geoff Regan last year, which appears to bolster the initial findings of the pre-release testing.

Last December, CBC News reported on a then-recently released report from Harris Decima on an earlier round of focus groups with parents of teens.

According to that report, information on the harmful effects of cannabis on mental functioning was "surprising and scary" to parents. 

Meanwhile, an older TV ad making the claim about reduced mental ability "was seen as the most hard-hitting" of the five ads shown to parents, Harris Decima said in its final report, which was presented to Health Canada in June.

Ads 'simple, clear and to the point'

The documents tabled Monday state that a subsequent "success check" was held last October with parents and youth in Brampton, Ont. Montreal and Burnaby, B.C.

The stated purpose: to ensure the ad was "clearly understood, impactful and had a call-to-action that resonated with the target audience."

The ads were perceived to be "simple, clear and to the point," the document states.

"No one felt the ads were confusing or difficult to understand."

The full report will also be released publicly sometime this year.

The government is required to publish the final reports from all public opinion research and polling to a central online depository within six months of the completion of data collection.

The 11-page reply, which includes both English and French versions of the response, was tabled in the House of Commons on Monday.

$7.5 million budget for ad campaign

The documents state that the total advertising budget for the National Anti-Drug Strategy is $7.5 million, which includes "production costs, media buy, research and other related costs."

It also reveals that Health Canada met with representatives Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the College of Family Physicians "several times" last July and August to "discuss the development" of the campaign.

"Both organizations shared the creative concepts with internal advisory committees, such as addiction medicine, pain psychology and child/adolescence psychology committee, among others, and provided Health Canada with feedback," it notes.

In August, the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC), Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons announced that they would not take part in the campaign.

In a joint statement, the organizations said the educational campaign "has now become a political football on Canada's marijuana policy."

“We did not, and do not, support or endorse any political messaging or political advertising on this issue,” it added.

Doctors, addiction experts consulted

The health department also worked with the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, which performed a "peer review" on the "updated and new web content developed to support the campaign."

Finally, the response notes that a more extensive post-campaign evaluation telephone survey — which is required under Treasury Board guidelines — will be conducted, and the results eventually published online.

The department is also "tracking a variety of metrics to gauge the effectiveness, reach and impact of the campaign," including page views, Facebook likes, tweets and retweets on Twitter and Pinterest pins.

It will also look at YouTube comments, which could result in distinctly less rosy results, given the overwhelming negative reviews that the ads initially elicited when posted to the Health Canada channel last fall.

No details on those findings are included in the response.

Mobile users: Read the full reply tabled by the government here.