Underage drinking continues to be a national public health issue in the U.S. especially among adolescents. Alcohol is the most widely used substance among America’s youth, contributing to the three leading causes of death among 12- to 20-year-olds: unintentional injury, homicide and suicide.

Further, underage drinking has severe consequences, many of which parents may not be fully aware, such as injury or death from accidents; unwanted and unprotected sexual activity; academic problems; and drug use.

To address this important problem, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a national PSA campaign with the theme: “Talk. They Hear You.” Its goal is to reduce underage drinking among youth ages 9 to 15 by providing parents and caregivers with information and resources they need to address the issue of alcohol with their young children.

The multi-year campaign features a series of TV, radio, print and out-of-home PSAs in English and Spanish. The PSAs show parents “seizing the moment” to talk with their children about alcohol. By modeling behaviors through these PSAs, parents can see the many “natural” opportunities for initiating the conversation about alcohol with their children. 

Goodwill Communications was selected to distribute and evaluate this muti-year public education campaign. Some of our campaign tasks included:

  • Serving on SAMHSA’s expert panel to develop campaign creative strategy and to select local campaign partners
  • Creating the distribution plan to target the campaign’s primary audiences
  • Developing an aggressive outreach and promotional plan to ensure maximum usage of campaign materials
  • Evaluating campaign impact

This graphic shows the typical number of media outlets targeted in each of the campaign waves:


As we do with most of our client campaigns, we used several tactics to ensure the media was aware of this most important issue, which included:

  • Writing a feature story on the campaign for our proprietary newsletter, Broadcasters Cafe, which was distributed to all TV stations
  • Conducting personal outreach to 200 national networks to pitch the campaign to community affairs directors
  • Posting the PSA to our branded You Tube PSA site
  • Posting the PSAs to the National Association of Broadcasters’ Spot Center and our own PSA Digital download sites so we could provide the media with the links to download digital files
  • Sending an online-press release to 30,000 online journalists via PR Web

Broadening the Campaign Reach

One of the campaign strategies was to develop a strong network of partners comprised of 40 partners, including other government agencies, as well as prevention, retail, health care, community, and school-based organizations.

They helped disseminate campaign messages via talking points, factsheets, infographics, social media and e-mail templates. We also conducted a Webinar for SAMHSA national staff, their partners and stakeholders to explain the campaign distribution tactics and how to access online reports.

Role of Outdoor

Outdoor PSAs played a key part in our attempt to reach the public where they live, work and play.

To reach parents and influencers, we deployed a strategic outdoor PSA effort, which resulted in posting outdoor messages in airports, shopping malls and throughout the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority’s bus and subway system. Additionally, PSAs were shown on Walmart’s closed-circuit TV screens in 540 of their big-box stores, reaching 39 million monthly shoppers.


SAMHSA administered a national evaluation survey to establish baseline attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors linked to underage drinking. After the campaign was launched, they did a second survey to assess changes in underage drinking prevention behaviors and attitudes. Some highlights include:

  • Education and conversations with children were the top two ways parents said they could prevent underage drinking.
  • The majority of parents exposed to the materials said they were believable; a third said the materials left an impression on them.
  • A quarter of parents exposed to the PSAs agreed the PSAs were among the best ads they had seen on underage drinking prevention and said they would seek out more information about the campaign.
  • Parents exposed to the PSAs were much more likely to have talked with their children about the dangers of underage drinking.

Media Values

In terms of media values, the campaign has generated just under $60 million in verified advertising equivalency value as shown in the following graph.