Editorial: Talking sense to the stoner

Last updated 05:00 20/08/2013

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OPINION: An Invercargill school pupil stood in front of her class for an an oral communications exercise last week and delivered what we're told was a pretty much pitch-perfect rendition of the script for the ghost chips drink-driving ad.

Somewhere out there, the New Zealand Transport Agency will be beaming.

It just stands as further evidence, if any was needed, that this one has entered the pantheon of public service advertisements that have connected with their audience in ways that preachy, threatening or condescending ads fail to reach.

Ghost chips has gained international attention beyond the formal advertising industry forums. Once they had finally snapped out of the mesmeric trance that the Kiwi accents seem to have cast, online commentators have marvelled at what they see as the absence of lofty adult disapproval and the suggestion that even kids - who are already drinking! - can make a good choice.

They contrast this with ads that rub viewers' noses in carnage or content themselves with thunderous warnings that "the cops will arrest the hell out of you".

One post: "Oh I was wondering who the coolest kids in the world were right now. . . I guess it's New Zealand."

In turn, some of the overseas attempts at translation might surprise us. Someone seeking to explain the use of "spoon" as a criticism suggests it's because when people with mental illnesses were hospitalised, they were given only spoons, not sharp implements, to eat with. Make of that one what you will.

In any case, here come a new batch of public service ads, this time against drug-impaired driving. Not everyone will be happy that the New Zealand Transport Agency campaign is targeting "the sensible stoners".

Perhaps when the agency's road safety director Ernst Zollner used that phrase he was distinguishing between those cannabis users who might be persuaded to reconsider their views, and others who might be just that little bit out of the reach of sweet persuasion.

In that second group, we're inclined to picture Otto Mann, the baked bus driver from The Simpsons, a hard guy to reach because he's so often distracted by matters closer to hand. Like his hand itself: "They call ‘em ‘fingers' but I never see 'em fing. Oh wait, there they go . . ."

The criticism will be that these ads are to some extent normalising the use of a drug which is still classed as illegal, albeit in recent lawmaking-and-policing environment that is more focused on minimising supply, education and harm minimisation.

But we need to remember that the road safety campaigners' job has more to do with preserving lives than transforming them.

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A simpler cut-it-out message would be more likely to become a case of preaching to the choir.

And, call this a generalisation, but you don't tend to find too many stoners in actual choirs.

- The Southland Times

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