Public Service Campaign Asks Teens to Stay in School

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The Advertising Council and the U.S. Army have begun the second round of an Operation Graduation public service campaign to stop students from dropping out of high school.

The pro bono effort by ad agency Bates USA encompasses television, radio and out-of-home, all pointing to a Web site and toll-free number. The effort, which originated in November 2000, is timed to coincide with the back-to-school season.

"[The Army] has a vested interest in having well-educated kids in this country ... it could help them in recruiting in the end. They'd benefit from having a better base of well-educated kids, but it's not directly linked to a recruitment campaign," said Heidi Arthur, senior vice president for campaign management at the Advertising Council, a New York nonprofit.

Since its debut, the campaign has garnered more than $70 million in donated time and space from the media. This year again, the effort will rely on similar generosity from the media.

The campaign is responding to the high national dropout rate. Nearly 500,000 students each year drop out of high school. Bates' ads use humor to target children and parents on the importance of staying in school. Three TV spots called "Interview," "Spare Change" and "Wallet" draw attention to the fact that non-graduates make 42 percent less than graduates.

"Wallet" shows a young man trying to buy a wallet. When the salesperson learns that he is a high school dropout, he is offered a miniature wallet. "Spare Change" depicts a homeless man begging a teenage boy for money. But he returns the change when he finds out that the boy dropped out of school.

In "Interview," a kid on a job interview finds that his horizons are limited due to his high-school dropout status. He is shown handing out fliers in a French fry costume.

The campaign for parents also comprises three spots. Called "Blackboard," "Face Off" and "Back Pat," the commercials show parents in a classroom setting learning basic ways to get in touch with their children. The tag line on all ads is "Don't drop out on your kids."

All teen-oriented ads point to for help and support on a number of issues. Parents also are asked to call 877/FOR-A-KID for a free brochure with tips on how to immerse themselves in their children's lives and education.

"This campaign adds specificity of the message and speaks of the consequences of dropping out," Arthur said. "We know that kids are really motivated by financial gains and everybody wants a great future. But most kids don't realize how diminished your potential is once you leave high school."

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