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Montana Meth Project Brings New Campaign to Missoula School

The Missoulian, March 9, 2012

Armed with new research showing its ad campaign is effective, the Montana Meth Project is on a statewide tour of schools to make teenagers cringe at the reality of meth use.

That tour stopped by Sentinel High School on Friday, where health education students saw graphic and grotesque images and videos of teens whose teeth have rotted out, or who have picked their skin to the point of bleeding and scabbing, or who have watched their friends die of overdoses and violence.

The new study by the Journal of Marketing Research says that ad campaigns that use both “fear and disgust” – as the Montana Meth Project’s do – are effective at changing college-age students’ willingness to “undertake distancing behaviors,” i.e. try drugs.

Alison Metzger-Jones walked a freshman class of health students through the Meth Project’s new and expanded website, www.methproject.org, just as she did with six other classes over the day.

There, videos and interactive content show students the deadly chemicals used to make meth, how the brain becomes addicted to the toxic drug and what the health, emotional and relational ramifications are for addicts.

Much of the content was created to answer teenagers’ own questions about the drug, said Metzger-Jones.

“I say our goal is to realistically but graphically depict what happens when you use meth,” she said. “It’s not fictitious. All its stories and information have been gathered from Montanans.”

The Journal of Marketing Research study, by researchers at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, compared different types of ads – ones using only fear tactics (like showing a coffin), ones that were emotionally neutral and merely informational, and ones that combine fear and disgust (pictures and videos of bleeding sores and rotting teeth, for example).

College students most strongly reacted to the latter, the study notes.

The Montana Meth Project, started in 2005 by businessman Thomas Siebel, claims its ads have helped lead to a 63 percent drop in Montana meth use over a seven-year period. Those critical of that claim note that meth use was already in a decline before the Montana Meth Project emerged on the scene.

Metzger-Jones said the new campaign is more interactive and Internet-based, utilizing social media like Facebook and content sites like YouTube and Pandora. The goal during the school tours is to reach at least 20 percent of all Montana teenagers over the next year.

“We are trying to share meth’s dangers in a very creative way,” she said. “This one is focused on questions specifically that teenagers have about meth. It’s the culmination of all the teen feedback we’ve gotten since 2005.”