Background: A report from the DC Prevention Center showed that the average age of a synthetic marijuana user in the District of Columbia is 13 ½ years old. Research revealed that youth were turning to synthetic marijuana as an alternative to marijuana. The DC Department of Health, Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (DOH/APRA) engaged Octane Public Relations and Advertising to develop and implement the first public awareness campaign to educate youth about the dangers of synthetic marijuana use. Octane conducted focus groups/stakeholders interviews to outline the scope of the problem and understand the drug to develop campaign messages and identify key communications channels for reaching target audiences. This research found that DC youth are aware that synthetic marijuana packaging is intended to catch their attention, but do not understand what is in synthetic marijuana and the harmful effects it may have on them.
Objective: Raise awareness about synthetic marijuana among DC youth through education about the dangers of the substance and engagement youth about fake weed through targeted community prevention strategies.Strategy/Tactics: The campaign engaged DC youth about the dangers of fake weed with messages and materials.
- Developed zombie-themed creative that was featured on print, online, guerilla, mobile billboard and, outdoor/transit advertising as well as materials.
- Collaborated with community partners to carry campaign messages to the youth they serve through events, outreach, etc.
- Developed a robust social media community (@K2ZombieDC) and website (www.K2ZombieDC.com) to support the campaign and facilitate consistent information, education and engagement of DC youth about fake weed.
Evaluation Methods and Results: Since the launch of the campaign, K2 Zombie DC has built awareness of the dangers associated with fake weed use among DC youth and .
- Total audience impressions for all campaign outreach efforts exceed 200 million.
- Received requests from DC youth, parents and community organizations for information. APRA referred youth to assessment/treatment services for synthetic marijuana use.
- Distributed 40,000+ palm cards, parent guides, back-to-school folders and posters at 60 events.
- The K2 Zombie DC social media platforms maintain a community of 6,500 followers.
- Online surveys of DC youth determined that 92% have seen or heard the Danger: Fake Weed + U = Zombie message and all (100%) indicated that the campaign advertising or materials got their attention. The majority of respondents (88%) said they were not at all likely to purchase, smoke or use fake weed in the next 90 days.
Conclusions: The campaign was not only effective at reaching youth to raise awareness about the dangers of synthetic marijuana, but was also catching their attention with youth zombies creative, a strong social media presence and community partner engagement.
Implications for research and/or practice: The campaign creative was a key factor for its success. Based on the research, the zombie creative was developed that resonated with youth and captured their attention. In addition, the campaign relied heavily on social media to engage youth meeting youth where they are comfortable receiving information. Finally, by leveraging credible community partners to extend the reach and disseminate campaign information.