go to content
Community

The Glory Days Of Canadian Drug PSAs: A Ranking

A message from Concerned Childrens Advertisers.

Posted on

In 2009, the Government of Canada launched a renewed effort to convince kids that drugs are bad. This was the result.

View this video on YouTube

Government of Canada / Via youtube.com

Clear? If you smoke weed, you will argue with your mom and get in trouble at school and be kind of stressed out. And you will inevitably start taking E. Of course.

Public service announcements (PSAs) about drugs never used to be this soft, especially in Canada. In the early 90s, they were scary. Not as scary as British PSAs (known across the pond as PIFs, or public information films), which are renowned for their gratuitously graphic imagery. The good people of Concerned Childrens Advertisers (now known as Companies Committed to Kids, and also history's greatest liars) didn't need to shock us with gore. They shocked us with truth. And darkness. And sometimes puppets. We'll get to the puppets later.

These days, CCK is busy with campaigns relating to bullying, active living, self-esteem and media literacy. In a March 2016 interview with Vice, CCK director Bev Deev said the organization's "outlook has shifted" when it comes to substance abuse. (The same is true for many Canadians, unless your name rhymes with Shmellie Fleitch.) But the memory of CCK's previous outlook has endured. I must have been four years old the first time I saw their earliest work; 23 years later, I still haven't so much as touched a joint to my lips. (I am very cool.) Such was the resonance of those fucking wire cutters. We'll get to those later, too.

None of this is to say all of their commercials served their purpose. Some achieved Government of Canada levels of weaksauce. Others were just plain silly. But if you grew up on a steady diet of YTV, they were all memorable. Let's get to the list.

10. "Drug Rap" (1990)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

While there are occasional hints of CCA's infamous shadowy drug depictions, most of this is what non-Christians think youth ministry retreats are like. I'm not sure how productive it is to plaster the word DRUGS all over a commercial for impressionable second-graders. But if it saved one kid from getting into the codeine when he should have been going for the Dimetapp, I suppose it's not a complete waste.

9. "Don't You Put It In Your Mouth" (1992)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

You knew this one was coming. While not explicitly about drugs, you certainly can get sick real quick if you put them in your mouth unwittingly. The very young children who take advice from puppets on every other show may have well listened to these two monsters in the 90s. As adults, though, it's just a plain joke.

And speaking of puppets . . .

8. "Hip Choice" (1993)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

Let's discuss all the problems with the dealer. One, he's so obvious he might as well be wearing a sandwich board. Two, if his eyeballs are that jaundiced and the areas around them that reminiscent of steak tartare, he should be dead. Three, shouldn't Eazy-E have taught him six years ago not to get high on his own supply?

(Also, those two kid puppets look like they were rejected either from the Cabbage Patch Dolls or the "Land of Confusion" video. Perhaps both.)

"Hip Choice" crosses an unfortunate line where the horrific final shot kills the message of the commercial. Were you thinking about drugs at all after you saw it? More likely, you were running for the safety of your pillow. Trying to shut your eyes to the terror on the screen . . . losing yourself in the emptiness of your eyelids . . . only to see those yellow eyes glaring, glaring, GLARING . . .

AAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

7. "Labyrinth/Finding a Needle" (1991)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

Much to the disappointment of 90s girls everywhere, there's no Goblin King to be found here. That and the absence of anything resembling a maze leaves me at a loss as to why Wikipedia lists this one as "Labyrinth." But I digress.

This one is simple enough: Don't touch discarded needles. And if you find one, the oldest kid in your group "has to stay." (I had no idea what that meant when I was six.) But the pacing is more frenetic than it needs to be, which detracts from the heart-pounding tone they were going for in the opening. Thankfully, they bring it home with the "TELL SOMEBODY!" over the logo. Still, not your best work, CCA.

6. "Loser" (1995)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

This one is more comedic than you might expect from CCA, but with a good helping of judgmental snark (in the best sense). Yes, the guys in the car are totally the losers here. Yes, the lost Hanson brother in the full-colour shots looks like he has it pretty good. But it's hardly as though teens have never been known to play sports, have girlfriends, strum guitars and do drugs. A tad misleading, that's all I'm saying.

The upside is that "Loser" hits preteens in a very special place: their sense of coolness. CCA doesn't have a perfect record of understanding how their audience thinks, but they get a gold star for this aspect of the ad. Unfortunately, they also get a demerit for saving the explicit drug reference until the very end. How were we supposed to tell that these meatheads were smoking joints and not cigarettes? If a middle school viewer from the pre-Internet era is already that sophisticated, I'm afraid it's too late.

5. "Mimic" (1990)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

This one sticks in the brain mostly because of that distorted lullaby tune, now a mainstay of crappy psychological thrillers everywhere. It's also not explicitly a drug ad, although we do see the kid pretend to smoke. But what are they trying to tell us about coffee? That if you drink it, your kids will pretend to drink it? And that's . . . just as bad as smoking? Sorry, you lost me. The attempt to reach parents instead of kids is welcome, but others have done it better.

4. "Syringe" (1990)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

This is what CCA did best: a disembodied voice and desaturation. But as tight and tense as the composition is, it doesn't quite convey what it wants to convey. For starters, not a lot of its audience have heard a damn word about "the stuff that gets into street drugs." And even if they had, what kind of stuff are we talking about? Dirty water? It's not exactly hygienic, but this tells us nothing about what it might actually do. If they really wanted to hammer it home, we might have seen that rat skittering past the infected, lifeless arm of an OD victim. Of course, ten years later, Darren Aronofsky would ruin infected arms for everyone else.

3. "Rehab" (1992)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

Rare for a CCA production, "Rehab" tries to make you sad instead of putting the fear of God into you. Think back to those glory days at the cottage with your BFF (brother? cousin?), gone for a good long time ever since he got into whatever it is he got into. The choice of the Hollies' "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is inspired. Kids might have a hard time grasping exactly what's going on, though. Where are they? Is this the hospital? Is this prison? Is this the scraggly guy's apartment . . . which has a nursing station for some reason? What's "rehab"?

2. "Brain" (1989)

View this video on YouTube

Concerned Childrens Advertisers / Via youtube.com

OH MY GOD SEND IT TO HELL.

You know how I said I've never done drugs despite being 27 years old? (Well, in November.) That is 100% true, and this is why. That short-circuited brain has haunted me from childhood to the present day. Even if my attitude toward drug policy has shifted in the direction of legalization, you will never catch me reaping the rewards, because I DO NOT WANT TO ALTER MY BRAIN KTHANX.

But if I'm so openly and unashamedly afraid of this brain, why is "Brain" at #2? What could possibly have done a better job keeping me clean? Well, for that, we turn to its immediate follow-up . . .

1. "Crack" (1990)

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

I only remember seeing this on TV once as a kid, but they only played "Daisy" once and that was all it took to swing a goddamn presidential election. "Crack" has all the necessary elements of an effective PSA: an indelible image, an intimidating voiceover, a cold hard fact, a single jump-inducing sound effect, and (above all) brevity. It does the damn thing. Don't do crack.

This post was created by a member of BuzzFeed Community, where anyone can post awesome lists and creations. Learn more or post your buzz!

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss