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Ad Campaign Paints Ugly Picture of Meth

March 23, 2006

HELENA, Mont. (AP) _ Motorists entering the city are greeted by a billboard showing a photo of a filthy public toilet and the message: ``No one thinks they’ll lose their virginity here. Meth will change that.″

It is part of a campaign against methamphetamine underwritten by software billionaire and part-time Montana resident Thomas Siebel. The project’s advertisements are dominating billboards, radio, television and print in the state.

The ads have been praised by health officials, law enforcement officers and education leaders for their gritty message. They are too graphic for some; one movie theater chain declined to show the ads before the start of films in its Montana theaters.

``It’s gotten kids talking about it,″ said Kevin Mays, a prevention counselor at Hellgate High School in Missoula. ``Before it was just another exciting thing. Now kids are really able to see the negative consequences.″

Siebel, who founded the software company Siebel Systems Inc., which was purchased by Oracle Corp. earlier this year, donated $5.6 million from the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation in August to launch his Montana Meth Project. He plans to donate more this year, and is trying to raise $8 million by 2007 to make the project self-sustaining. He doesn’t want to take government grants, fearing the ads would never make it out of a government committee.

Siebel said he was able to hire some of the best minds in the advertising business to develop the project, including Venables, Bell & Partners of San Francisco.

In one TV spot, a young meth-addicted woman is shown yanking out her eyebrows with tweezers while a narrator says, ``It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you are on meth.″

Another shows a young man covered in scabs robbing terrified patrons of a coin laundry of petty cash, then running up to his pre-meth self and screaming, ``This was not supposed to be your life!″

Law enforcement leaders were struggling with ways to communicate the danger of meth until ``Tom dropped out of the sky″ with his campaign, said Attorney General Mike McGrath. A number of drug awareness organizations in other states, including Utah and Illinois, have approached the Montana Meth Project to use the campaign as a model, Siebel said.

The campaign stands apart because it has been paying for ``saturation level″ advertising, rather than lining up for limited free public service announcement air time, Siebel said. So far, it has played more than 50,000 minutes of broadcast advertising in Montana and generated more than 370 news stories, he said.

It is not the first to use advertisements to attack meth use. The nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America runs anti-meth ad campaigns across the country, though they are not as graphic as Siebel’s. Spokeswoman Hallie Deaktor declined to discuss the Montana Meth Project’s campaign, but said any effort to expose the dangers of drugs is helpful. Gauging real effectiveness, however, is difficult, she said.

``Over the years, we’ve done different degrees and styles of advertising, and we do it based on what our research says works,″ she said. ``If our research says teens will be moved by seeing the effects of using drugs, we’ll use it.″

The ads have not been universally embraced. The Montana Meth Project has unsuccessfully tried to get its ads aired at the beginning of movies in Carmike Cinemas, a major theater chain. The Georgia company and Screen Vision, a New York-based screen advertising company, have so far not approved the ads because of their graphic content.

Matthew Kearney, CEO of Screen Vision, said the theaters could not run the ads because they would have appeared before all movies, including those that are G-rated. Technology in Montana theaters is not yet advanced enough to filter the ads, he said.

Carmike did not return several calls for comment.

One package of television ads were so graphic that Siebel canceled them before they aired. The series featured real-life addicts, including a young pregnant woman talking about shooting up despite worries about the effect on the baby and a desire to kill herself. Another showed a young woman actually injecting meth into her neck.

The current TV ads show actors portraying young people doing such things as trading sex for meth. Radio ads feature real recovering addicts telling their stories.

``It’s a pretty radical experiment,″ Siebel said. ``Nobody has done it quite like this before.″

___

On the Net:

Montana Meth Project: www.montanameth.org

Not Even Once: www.notevenonce.com

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