The three puppeteers

17th December 1999 at 00:00
Their message is simple: don't be a dope on a rope. Judy Mackie reports on how three S5 pupils are cracking the drugs campaign mould

In the week between Christmas and the new year, the north-east of Scotland is set to be snowed under by a blizzard of advertising as a drugs awareness campaign, using a wide mix of marketing media, including posters on buses and a video wall in Aberdeen's Union Street, is unleashed.

"Don't be a dope on a rope" - this is the hard-hitting, home-grown message created by young people for young people. The campaign is being managed by three Secondary 5 pupils at Aberdeen's Linksfield Academy. The past few weeks have involved Emma Jeffrey, Ian Duguid and Sarah Jopp in a flurry of activities, designing the advertisements, creating the copy, recording background music composed by Ian and voice-overs and ordering fliers, posters, stickers, postcards and T-shirts.

"I can't believe that we've seen and done so much within such a short space of time," says Emma, as the three inspect the finished graphics of their "drug puppet", a sinister androgynous collage-character.

The project has been led by Health Promotions (a division of Grampian Health Board) and funded by a partnership of media companies - Grampian Television and the local weekly newspaper, the Aberdeen amp; District Independent - and Scotland Against Drugs (SAD).

The area's drugs problem is similar in many ways to that of other regions in Scotland, according to Health Promotions and Grampian Police, but the escalating use of heroin and crack cocaine is causing particular concern.

"Young people often criticise drugs messages for being out of touch," says Izzy Crawford, who is co-ordinating the media message event on behalf of the partners. "We asked them what kinds of messages would have the most striking impact on them, and what came through most strongly is that the peer education approach has the best chance of engaging their interest and attention. This sparked off the idea to support them in running their own marketing campaign."

After securing the necessary private sector commitment, they were awarded pound;20,000 from SAD's Scottish Drugs Challenge Fund, which encourages local organisations to join forces to address drugs issues relevant to their area.

The Aberdeen amp; District Independent played a major part in the first stage of the project, producing a special eight-page supplement, "Drugs - Presenting The Facts", which featured advertisements designed by S3 to S6 pupils at Torry and Linksfield academies. The newspaper's sales manager, Eric Farquharson, and his colleague Amanda Carter provided advice and support to the pupils.

"Amanda worked with social studies students at Linksfield and I worked with a media studies group at Torry," explains Mr Farquharson. "We gave them an insight into the workings of the newspaper and the role advertising plays within it.

"Our own team sold the advertising, but the young people designed the ads, either on their own or with help from our graphics people.

"The advertisers were very supportive and we were all pleased with the results. After the supplement was published, we were inundated with letters from parents, many with children who were taking drugs, who said it had been a good idea."

The scond phase began almost immediately, with Ian, Emma and Sarah agreeing to run a full-scale media campaign. A brainstorming session with their media and Health Promotions advisers led to three proposals which were evaluated by 300 pupils from Linksfield, Torry and Northfield academies. They voted overwhelmingly for the "Dope on a Rope" concept, which was then developed with assistance from Health Promotions' graphics department.

"In Emma's original drawing, we had a guy at the end of a dog's lead, but it looked as if he was trying to hang himself, so we changed him into a puppet on a string," explains Sarah. "The word 'dope' could have been seen as referring only to cannabis, so Ian came up with the idea of making our character out of different drugs. That led on to constructing it on computer as a collage of magazine cut-outs, using both women's and men's features so that both sexes could relate to it."

Next, the team created the copy describing their drug puppet's disjointed existence: no looks, no money, no love, no life. These messages will, they believe, hit home with their target audience of 12 to 18-year-olds.

Then they visited Grampian Television studios to design and record a TV advertisement, which will run frequently throughout the week of the campaign. Grampian TV's sales manager, Graeme Pattullo, worked through the creative process with the pupils, ensuring they were focused on who their target audience was and what they wanted to say. "It has also been an education for me," he says. "I wasn't aware of the information being supplied to school-age youngsters and it really surprised me how readily available drugs are.

"Knowing what I know now, I believe the campaign will hit the right note with its target market, and the way in which it'll be rolled out will reassure adults that its messages about drugs are what young people need to know."

To ensure that the project's messages are understood, the pupils will send an explanatory letter, a "Dope on a Rope" postcard and a Health Education Board for Scotland drugs fact file to parents of more than 10,000 pupils at 11 secondary schools in the north-east.

Last-minute activities for Ian, Sarah and Emma have involved working with the Aberdeen amp; District Independent on a full-page advertisement to appear on the newspaper's Christmas and New Year TV listings pages, and making records at Northsound Radio and Moray Firth Radio for broadcast during the campaign.

All three are looking forward to the official launch on December 21 at Aberdeen Football Club, which will carry an advertisement in its match programme and distribute "Dope on a Rope" postcards.

The success of the media message event will be measured by the response of 10,000 youngsters to a questionnaire.

Health Promotions healthline: 0500 202030

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