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Don’t Be A Lab Rat

On New Year’s Day 2014, Colorado became the first state in the country to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Later that summer, our ad agency was responsible for developing and launching the first youth marijuana prevention campaign in a post-legalization world – Don’t Be A Lab Rat – designed to increase the perception of risk associated with youth marijuana usage. After the campaign was completed, an independent tracking study determined that it successfully increased teens’ perceptions of risk as it related to youth marijuana use across every key message we utilized and it found that their intention to use the substance also decreased. Throughout the process of creating this campaign, we learned several valuable pieces of information that may be helpful to any adult looking for ways to broach this topic with a child or teen in their life.

Kids are smart and want to know the real facts

Prior to developing the key message of the campaign, we spoke to over 100 teens across the state of Colorado to gain their insight and perspective. Regardless of their age, background, or degree of exposure to marijuana, we came to understand that there were areas in which they did not fully understand or had questions they wanted answered.

They were also quick to point out that much of the information about marijuana was heavily biased towards one side or the other of the issue. They were vocal about wanting information provided in a straightforward way without it being editorialized or overly opinionated.

In our case, we discovered newly emerging research that, although still preliminary, identified the harm that marijuana presents to the developing brain. These were side effects including permanent loss of IQ, memory and links to disorders such as schizophrenia. We shared this knowledge with the teens we spoke with and found that they identified these harmful effects as the most compelling reason to make them reconsider or postpone usage. To youth, their brains are everything. It is the key to their hopes, dreams and plans for the future.

Talk to them openly and honestly

Any parent with a teenager is fully aware of their tendency to challenge authority and question what they are told. We found that respecting their intelligence by having a very forthcoming and honest dialogue about marijuana was the best course of action to ensure that teens took our message seriously.

One challenge that we encountered was that the science and analysis of the effects of marijuana on the underage brain is still preliminary. It is an emerging area of research with a lot that scientists just don’t know yet definitively.

Instead of tip-toeing around that issue, we wanted to be upfront with teens, respecting their judgment and being as straightforward as possible. That led directly to the core premise of the campaign: “Don’t Be A Lab Rat”.

Don't Be A Lab Rat (Human Lab Rat Cage)

We acknowledged that the facts are preliminary and more research is necessary, but the campaign posed the question of whether or not teens should take the risk until the issue is better understood. This idea was designed to create the tension necessary within our audience to capture their attention, stir interest and spark conversation.

This is bigger than any one discussion or ad campaign

This is a complicated issue that can be confusing and complex from a teenager’s perspective. A teen’s reality one day may completely change the next, which means there’s a need for continued discussion. Leaving the door open to subsequent conversations is crucial as teens try to navigate the decisions they encounter throughout their lives. As adults, we can be here to help support and help them through that.

To see more of the Don’t Be A Lab Rat campaign, please visit Questions or comments? Please contact us at

Mike Sukle

Mike is the Founder and Creative Director of Sukle Advertising and Design

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