To Successfully Market Drug Use Prevention, Sell the Positive

To Successfully Market Drug Use Prevention, Sell the Positive

Several years ago, an online marketing article by Ian Lurie emphasized that people buy pleasure, not prevention.  For example, people will not pay for things that scare them or remind them bad things can happen, like a bicycle helmet for their kid.  Even if it is inexpensive and brain-saving. 

Rather, the article contented that pleasure sells.  That’s why expensive and completely optional dog beds, which claim to provide pleasure for your pooch, sell extremely well among dog owners.  It makes owners feel good when they buy it.  

The same can be said about our efforts to market and sell substance use prevention programs to schools, communities and families.    

We need to start focusing on selling prevention as a provider of good, positive, desirable and even pleasurable, and less a preventer of bad. 

We Overemphasize the Bad 

I know this is going to be hard for many of us.  We are so used to hearing, reading and seeking out facts, statistics and stories of all the bad that can come from substance abuse.  Some of us may even have a bias toward negative content about drug use.  

For example, we search for bad news, negative research findings, the latest harm statistics and tragic stories highlighting the all too common outcomes resulting from drug and alcohol abuse, over looking for good or positive information regarding substance use. 

The fact of the matter is that we are sold on the bad that can result from the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs by youth and young adults. 

We know the bad all too well.  Premature deaths, injury, illness, school and learning problems, trouble with police, arguments with family and friends, career and job problems, etc. 

However, do we also know the good and positive that comes from our prevention efforts? 

We need to stop overemphasizing the many bad things we are trying to prevent and start selling what good comes from our prevention programs and services. 

Instead of selling substance use and abuse prevention, we should start selling what every school, community, family and youth need and want.  

What Do We All Need? 

What we all need and want for ourselves and others, regardless of age, gender and status, are positive physical, mental, social and spiritual traits, including: 

  • Fitness
  • Strength
  • Success
  • Energy
  • Health
  • Confidence
  • Skills
  • Intelligence
  • Hope
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Patience
  • Generosity
  • Respect
  • Determination
  • Self-control
  • Caring
  • Fun 

I’m sure you could add to this list of positive benefits and characteristics we desire and oftentimes strive to achieve for our youth, ourselves and others we love. 

These positive images and qualities are what we should be selling, promoting, communicating and emphasizing if we want more success in having others want and even demand the programs and services we provide.  

What school, for example, doesn’t require students who demonstrate respect, self-control, determination and set high goals for themselves?  What parent doesn’t want their youth to be healthy, fit, confident and hopeful of the future?  

What business doesn’t look to hire employees that demonstrate skills, energy, intelligence and are supportive of their co-workers?  And what young person doesn’t want to think of themselves as fun, energetic, loving and successful? 

The Need to Re-brand Prevention 

We need to re-brand our substance use prevention programs as PROVIDING good and positive outcomes, not just PREVENTING bad things we don’t want to think about and may even deny exist at “my” school or with “my” youth.  

While a small number of substance use prevention programs directly promote physical fitness and health, indirectly all drug prevention programs promote fitness by preventing drug abuse which negatively affects a young person’s ability to participate in sports, exercise regularly, and live an active, healthy lifestyle. 

In fact, drug and alcohol abuse and problems can rob youth and young adults from all good and positive things in their lives if left un-checked.  If substance use becomes the focus and emphasis of a youth’s life and identity, it will restrict and eventually eliminate all other positive activities and aspects of living. 

The challenge at hand for prevention specialists is to think seriously and deeply about how their prevention programs, strategies and services promote good and positive for kids, families, schools and society.  

Consider also the critical importance of using prevention programs, strategies and communication which go beyond offering sensational information about the negative or harmful effects of drug use.  

Select programs that target broader topics and promote fitness and health, spirituality, positive youth development, and social and emotional skills. 

It’s time for us to start selling prevention for what it can and does provide…good, positive and essential things for our youth, families, schools and communities, and not just prevent the bad, as important as that may be. 

Please like and share this article with others in your region and state.  Thank you! 

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This sounds really great, but I fear this is an over-simplification of the issue. The list of positives in the article are great, and I agree we want to promote those outcomes. However, how many teens experimenting with drugs do so because the drug they are trying promises to deliver similar results? Steroids promise great strength, athletic ability, and confidence. How many people on marijuana, alcohol or other drugs have stated they feel more self-confident, happier, and more comfortable while using their drugs? How many are convinced that they drive just as well if not better after a few beers or smoking a joint? And certainly our current teen culture promotes the idea of excitement and fun with drug use, and because everyone is doing it you’ll receive acceptance and maybe even love. I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote the positive, but if we withhold the negative from our prevention work we’re only selling half the picture…..and the other half could potentially lead them right to the drugs we are trying so hard to keep them off.

Eric George

Great post. We need to promote positive behaviors as well as inform the public about the risky ones.

Amy McEvoy

100%! I have been trying to pull my leadership in this exact direction. Healthy sells much better than darkness. Making this shift in thinking is like planting seeds in a downpour, sometimes the seeds get washed away, sometimes you have to replant, and sometimes the sun (light) comes out just in time for the seed to take roots, start to grow and thrive. I’m going to keep planting the ‘positive seeds’ and hope that more sunny days are in the forecast! Healthy thriving lives are the greatest evidence that prevention works!


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