Educating children of the dangers of cannabis ‘edibles’
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'Edibles' are cannabis candies, marketed in packaging to resemble real sweets. It is no wonder that more and more children are becoming ill after consuming them. Surrey Police and Design Inc joined forces to spread awareness of the dangers.
Drug dealers are flooding the country with cannabis-laced sweets disguised as chocolates, sours and Haribo jellies. Using Instagram and Snapchat as mediums to market these items as ‘treats’, sales are soaring. But, with these sweets containing super potent levels of concentrated THC – the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis – the danger is that they are clearly designed to appeal to younger people who may not know what is in them.
These items, classified as cannabis ‘edibles’, are an alternative way of consuming cannabis without smoking or vaping. However, drug experts fear that children are most likely to consume entire bags at once – meaning they ingest dangerous level of THC.
This is borne out by Police Forces throughout the UK who are seeing more and more young children being hospitalised through consuming ‘edibles’ (aka ‘cannabis candy’) with one senior officer stating, “These types of products, which may be marketed as ‘cannabis infused’ or ‘THC infused’ are unregulated in the UK and are therefore illegal. They can appear to be commercial products with professional packaging, but this should not be taken as a sign that they are safe or legal.“
Recent cases include: October 2020, Camden: 13 schoolgirls rushed to hospital after consuming some edibles in highly colourful packaging to look identical to Nerds and said to be 50 times stronger than a joint.
March 2021, Sutton: Three children taken to hospital feeling unwell after eating THC laced gummy bears.
April 2021, Dublin: Two boys, aged three and four rushed to hospital after eating some sweets.
May 2021, Epsom: Four children, aged 12 and 13 taken to hospital having fallen unconscious after consuming jelly rings.
Following the rapid rise of hospitalisations in the county, Surrey Police once again turned to Design Inc for help with the creation of a campaign that would serve to educate children about the dangers of edibles. Surrey Police would action this through advertising, social media and at roadshows in schools across the county.
It was clear at outset that this needed to be an awareness campaign and the goal was simply to educate rather than to scare. Moreover, that any message shouldn’t be pushy or dictatorial – telling a child not to do something could easily backfire. In fact, with the campaign needing not be appear authoritarian, this also led the decision not to include the force’s crest within the campaign creatives.
The approach A working group was quickly established. This would bring together Surrey Police Comms team, officers, school teachers, schoolchildren as well as external support groups. Whilst the working group worked out the action plan, Design Inc set out to establish some clear creative directions. Our initial design ideas began by considering various messaging ‘angles’, including:
‘Stop & Think’ – do you really know what you are just about to eat? ‘Trust’ – do you really trust the person who has given you that sweet? ‘Blind’ – not all that looks like a gummy, is a gummy ‘Symptoms’ – highlighting the possible side effects ‘Self Image’ – taking edibles does not may you look cool
With the messaging angles coming first, we were able to follow that with some initial sketches as to how the designs could compliment the message. Together, this would help us in narrowing down the strongest concepts to put forward.
Six initial creative concepts & sketches were presented to the working group who provided feedback to develop the two concepts they felt would best serve their purpose of educating two different age ranges. We had a deadline of four weeks to develop this cannabis candy advertising campaign which would be rolled out through schools across the county. There was a lot to do, including carrying out a photoshoot for one of the designs – but we were confident it could all be done in time.
The chosen concepts The two selected concepts were totally different to each other. One focused on the possible symptoms and the other would focus on the child’s self image. the single connection however, was that they both utilised an image of a Gummy Bear which would be used to represent all cannabis candies in general:
Self Image – this would become the main concept and would depict a child looking at themselves in a school’s washroom mirror and seeing a reflection of a Gummy Bear looking back. Along with the strapline, ‘Don’t Be A Gummy Dummy’, the message stated that ‘taking cannabis candy is not a good look.’
Symptoms – this would become a secondary concept and this depicted an illustration of a large Gummy Bear along with the headline ‘Not Every Gummy Is Good For Your Tummy’, this advert would pinpoint certain areas of the body where possible symptoms may occur – headache, nausea, blurred vision, impaired speech, impaired walking, diarrhoea, etc.
Timing is everything Regrettably, just one day after that decision was made, two more local schoolchildren were hospitalised, having consumed cannabis candy. This would lead the cannabis candy advertising campaign to be pushed higher up Surrey Police’s agenda and the deadline for campaign roll-out significantly brought forward. Instead of the expected four week deadline, we now had only two weeks to get the campaign assets wrapped up! It was quickly decided that the ‘self image’ advert would lead the campaign but, until that was complete, the ‘symptoms’ advert would be used in the interim. Fortunately, the ‘symptoms’ advert was easy and quick to set up.
But, that left us with the ‘self image’ advert and, it was this one that required a dedicated photoshoot. Of children. In a school washroom. Oh, and with a gummy bear staring back at them!
We were certainly lucky in that within a few days, the school would break up for half-term. So, with the school’s permission, this gave us uninterrupted access for a shoot during half-term. The photographer was quickly arranged, 4 child models selected and a date confirmed for the shoot. All seemed to be going well. The only sticking point was getting the reflection of the Gummy Bear added to the artwork…
Have you ever looked closely at a Gummy Bear? Let me tell you, they’re small and not at all photogenic and we quickly realised that we may require a better solution than trying to get a good photograph of one. Our solution however was to purchase a large gummy bear from a well-known internet shop who could send it for next day delivery.
The shoot The school photoshoot went extremely well. The school had a few large washrooms we could use and these already benefited from large mirrors and good lighting. Moreover, due to half term, we were able to secure the services of four photogenic child models – all of which were a dream to work with.
With the school photoshoot done, we had a large selection of shots to use and we quickly settled on one series which had the children positioned at the same angle in front of the mirror. This was crucial, as it enabled us to ensure the large Gummy Bear could be photographed at the right image for the reflection.
With all the images to hand, we set to work styling up for separate adverts, each one featuring each child with a different coloured gummy bear staring back at them. Each advert would feature the same text albeit coloured to compliment the colour of the gummy bear.
With the designs approved, the final step was to set the artwork up for the campaign assets: print adverting, digital advertising, direct mail, banner & posters, social media graphics, etc.
Design Inc is proud to have supported Surrey Police with the cannabis candy advertising campaign and we trust it creates the right message to its intended audience and helps prevent any future hospitalisations.
The reaction The campaign was very well received, with Surrey Police’s Head of Comms remarking: ‘I love this campaign because it was so influenced by our target audience. They chose the final concept and we were able to shoot in their school while it was empty over half-term. The campaign is also slowly growing bigger in recognition of the problem; we have had a number of other police forces contact us to use the artwork. Another campaign we can really proud of!‘