Swedish anti-drugs ads appeal to ethical consumption concerns 

Anti-drug organisation uses sustainability and ethical messaging to reach young, casual users

Krogar Mot Knark (Pubs Against Drugs) is a collaboration between the city of Trollhättan, the police and 80 of the city’s venues to limit the availability of drugs in pubs. The organisation launched in 2019 and provides training and education to hospitality staff about drugs and how to work preventatively.

In December 2022, Pubs Against Drugs partnered with Åkestam Holst NoA, Stockholm, on an anti-drug campaign called There are no good excuses, focused on the impact of drugs on society rather than the individual. Inspired by the insight that casual party drug users aren’t worried about the impact of drugs on their health or don’t have addiction issues, the campaign appeals to the younger generation’s interest in sustainability, climate change and social justice.

Slogans such as ‘I only sponsor gang wars when I’m with friends’, ‘I only support child labour when there is something to celebrate’ and ‘I only kill Mexicans on the weekend’ highlight the wider, societal consequences of drug-taking. Six messages appear in out-of-home, print ads and radio across Sweden, and on posters in pubs and clubs in Stockholm.

Krogar Mot Knark’s website reveals more information about the relationship between recreational drug use and violence, exploitation and environmental damage. This includes how the production, smuggling and sale of opium used in opioids finances terrorist organisations, how four square meters of rainforest is destroyed for every gram of cocaine produced, and how shootings have increased in Sweden between criminal gangs whose main source of income is cannabis.

‘When we started reading reports, studies and reports about the effects of drugs on the world around us, we got a shock,’ said art director Eva Wallmark in a statement. ‘It is likely that there are many others who are also not fully aware of the effects. With the campaign, we hope to make more people think twice before taking a line of cocaine or smoking a joint. Do you really want to contribute to murder, child labour and rainforest destruction? Hopefully not.’

Contagious Insight 

Change tack / Although this campaign’s choice of media channels is traditional, the messaging is not. Flying in the face of unsuccessful anti-drug messaging that relies on scaremongering or exaggerating the effects of mild drugs like marijuana, this campaign instead forces casual drug-takers to confront the reality of the drug trade. Young Swedes are socially and environmentally conscious – ‘the environment — from ecology to conservation — has been an integral part of the Swedish curriculum since 1969,’ reports NBC News, and 49% of young Swedes consider climate change when looking for a job, according to a 2022 survey by the European Investment Bank (EIB). The survey also found that 59% of young Swedes already buy second-hand clothes instead of new ones. Towards the end of last year, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was one of 600 young Swedes to sue the Swedish state, accusing it of climate inaction. But when it comes to recreational drug use, young Swedes’ political, environmental and social values fall by the wayside. By raising awareness of the fact that occasional, casual, and party drug use fuels exploitation, violence, terrorism and environmental damage, Pubs Against Drugs reframes ‘harmless’ drug use and hits young Swedes where they will feel it most.

MCGA (Make copywriting great again) / The campaign is also an example of beautifully economical, punchy copywriting – the juxtaposition of casual phrasing like ‘I only… when I’m with friends’ with stark phrasing like ‘kill Mexicans’ and ‘sponsor gang wars’ is very effective, emphasised by contrasting black and white and slightly distorted typography. Only the pithiest and most poignant of copy can hold its own in ads like these. Take British Airways’ recent campaign, A British Original. The airline created 500 unique print, digital and outdoor executions and more than 32 different short films, which highlight reasons why people fly, from the humorous to the heart-rending. The sparing use of copy (a simple third tickbox following ‘Business’ and ‘Leisure’) was enormously effective and the number of executions gave the campaign the sense of being universally personal.

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