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Asia Minute: Australia’s “Stoner Sloth” Public Service Announcements Produce Controversy

NSW Government
NSW Government
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A public service media campaign underway in Australia has seemingly backfired.  The ads concern drug abuse - and they target young people.  But critics say they use the wrong ammunition.  HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

The Australian public service announcements start with the idea that smoking marijuana can limit the achievements of young people.  The slogan is simple: “You’re worse on weed.”  But the execution is….curious.

The ads depict young pot smokers as giant tree sloths - unable to perform simple tasks like passing the salt at a dinner table or holding a conversation at a party.  Other young people in the ads mutter “stoner sloth” in disapproving tones.

The ads are sponsored by the government of New South Wales, the Australian state that includes Sydney.  But the state’s premier is among the critics.  The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Center said it “was not advised of or consulted about the creative concept” of the stoner sloth campaign.

The Center’s executive director told Australia’s Fairfax Media the ads could do more harm than good, saying that using the sloth “may convey a positive appeal to people being intoxicated rather than the intended negative message.”  The website “Agency Spy” reports Saatchi and Saatchi put together the campaign - which the website called “tone deaf” and a “colossal failure.”   But a government official said the campaign is “designed to encourage positive behaviors in young people before bad habits start.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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