Though the championship game between the Patriots and the Falcons was, in fact, the 51st playing of the Super Bowl, it was the third year NCADA used the local broadcast of the game to air provocative opioid-themed commercials. (Two this year.) Though they were, in fact, announcements that provided a service to the public, they were not, in the technical sense, Public Service Announcements.
PSAs are aired for free; the station or network gives away commercial time to serve the greater good, not to sell things like Bud Light, Skittles or Chevrolets. Stations tend to give away unsold commercial time late at night, early in the morning or during local programming. The Super Bowl is the most watched television program of the year. Nationally and locally, commercial time for the Super Bowl is at a premium and there is no such thing as a PSA run during the game. If you want to show your ad during the Super Bowl, you’ve got to pay for play.
As a small community health agency, NCADA did not have the resources to buy commercial time. To get it done, we needed help. A LOT of help. And this year, the commercial time was sponsored by the DEA and their DEA 360 Strategy.
Jim Shroba, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA St. Louis office said, “There is an unprecedented prescription opioid epidemic in this nation. To combat this, the NCADA and DEA have joined forces to educate the community. When Howard called to tell me about the concept for the Super Bowl ads, I jumped at the chance to support NCADA on this effort. It was a great way to reach so many people—on the one night of the year they were actually watching TV for the commercials!”
To understand why the Drug Enforcement Administration would partner with an agency like ours, it’s important to understand the DEA 360 Strategy. In addition to interdiction and diversion control, it involves changing attitudes through community outreach and partnership with local organizations to “equip and empower communities with the tools to fight the heroin and prescription drug epidemic.”
The response to the ads was immediate and, for the first time, almost unanimously positive. For the third year in a row the ads were produced by Mark Schupp and directed by Scott Ferguson. And for the third year in a row, both men provided their talents pro bono. There were production costs, to be sure, so we are grateful for the support of those who helped fund the making of these ads—most especially, the Missouri Foundation for Health, a steady and quiet supporter for many years.
The ads did what they were designed to do: they made people lock up or destroy their medications. We received more requests for drug disposal pouches in the one day after the Super Bowl than we had during the previous 18 months. The ads were seen, they generated conversation and discussion and, most importantly, they incited change.