PAUL HOLMES: The government's anti-drug ads opened the floodgates for attacks on everyday products

That government-funded advertising campaign suggesting that if you buy marijuana you're helping to fund terrorist activity has a certain superficial logic, as long as you don't think too hard about it.

That government-funded advertising campaign suggesting that if you buy marijuana you're helping to fund terrorist activity has a certain superficial logic, as long as you don't think too hard about it.

And why would you, since it's only an ad? Give it a moment's thought, however, and you're likely to come up with your own version of the old NRA bumper sticker: If pot is illegal, only criminals will benefit from selling pot. A new anti-SUV ad undercuts the government ads brilliantly, making it clear that you can apply the same logic to a whole range of perfectly legal products. Funded by a group called the Detroit Project, the ad features SUV owners saying things like, "I helped hijack an airplane," and, "I helped blow up a night club," and, "I helped teach kids around the world to hate America." The argument is that gas-guzzling SUVs make us more dependent on oil, much of which comes from nations sympathetic to our enemies. Ultimately, the ad is much more effective at parodying the government's lame social marketing effort than it is at convincing anyone that SUVs are evil, especially since there are much more effective ways of anti-marketing them. And I don't mean those "What Would Jesus Drive?" ads created by the Evangelical Environmental Network. Yet it's an interesting issue that can unite liberals and born-again Christians. No, the most effective weapon in the campaign against SUVs - led by columnist Arianna Huffington - comes from the industry itself, which has conducted demographic research and found that SUV owners are "insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities." This comes as no surprise to the rest of us, but letting SUV owners know what automakers really think of them might work in the same way that anti-smoking ads have been effective: by pointing out to consumers that they're being fooled. Keith Bradsher, author of High and Mighty, a new book critical of the SUV "culture," points out that contrary to popular conception, these vehicles are significantly more dangerous than ordinary cars. SUVs are more prone to rollover, and the occupant death rate is 6% higher in SUVs than it is in other vehicles - 8% higher in the very largest SUVs. The bottom line is this: Public relations professionals who represent unpopular products can soon expect to see the most sophisticated social marketing techniques currently being used by government agencies applied to their products.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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