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McFeely: Is SD's anti-drug ad campaign bungling or brilliant?

South Dakota getting international attention for its new anti-methamphetamine crusade

Rancher Meth.jfif
South Dakota's new campaign aimed at raising awareness about the state's methamphetamine epidemic is drawing both positive and negative reviews. State of South Dakota photo
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Bungling or brilliant?

That's the question being asked about South Dakota's alleged anti-methamphetamine campaign.

Alleged? Yep. Because in case you haven't heard, the state and its Minneapolis-based advertising agency unveiled this week a new awareness campaign centered around the phrase, "Meth. We're On It."

This comes from the same state that brought you the "Don't Jerk and Drive" safe-driving campaign several years ago. It meant to tell drivers not to jerk the steering wheel in icy conditions. What did you think it meant?

South Dakota has committed nearly $1.4 million to the advertising agency in an effort to combat methamphetamine addiction, a horrific problem that's no joking matter.


Problem is, it's become a joking matter.

The agency came up with, and the state OK'd, a campaign based on the phrase, "Meth. We're On It." The website's domain name, and you can't make this up, is onmeth.com. The logo is an outline of South Dakota with the words "Meth. We're On It" superimposed inside the state's border.

There are photos of everyday South Dakotans – youth football players to ranchers — looking like they're saying, "Meth. We're On It."

The idea, apparently, was to emphasize South Dakotans are on top of the methamphetamine epidemic, that they are looking out for each other, that they are ready to combat the issue.

Unfortunately, it looks to most of the rest of the world like South Dakota is proudly proclaiming it is pro-meth.

Social media and the rest of the United States has noticed. Twitter, always a place to meter the pitchforks-and-torches crowd, went nuts in mocking the campaign. National media like the New York Times have done stories.


Some of the better ideas from Twitterland on how South Dakota could top itself:

In a nod to Nike: "Meth. Just Do It."

In a nod to milk: "Got Meth?"

In a nod to Texas: "Don't Meth with South Dakota."

In a nod to beef: "Meth, It's What for Dinner."

There are jokes about Walter White and "Breaking Bad." There are memes involving the "Krystal Ship" RV that White and his sidekick used to cook meth in the uber-popular television show.

It's brilliant Twitter stuff. The hashtag #MethWeAreOnIt was trending nationally as of Tuesday afternoon. It's altogether likely South Dakota will end up getting on late-night comedy TV, the butt of jokes from Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah.

South Dakota has gone viral for all the wrong reasons.


Bungling, right?

Not so fast, claims South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and others, mostly advertising types. They claim the attention the campaign has received, negative or otherwise, proves its effectiveness. It's the old "there is no such thing as bad publicity" mantra of marketing. It's an awareness campaign, they say, and all the Twitter bashing is awareness.

Football Meth.jfif
South Dakota's new campaign aimed at raising awareness about the state's methamphetamine epidemic is drawing both positive and negative reviews. State of South Dakota photo

Of course, what else are they going to say? That flushing $1.4 million down the toilet on bad public relations was a mistake? That's not how politicians and governments roll. The Republican was claiming victory Tuesday, linking a Twitter post to a New York Times article.

Fake news isn't fake news when you think it benefits you, apparently.

"Now that I’ve got your attention," Noem tweeted. "Meth is a SERIOUS problem in SD. One that affects your son, daughter, husband, wife, parents, and grandparents … if affects YOU. Make this a conversation at your dinner table. Get on it and get it OUT!"

Brilliant? Maybe. But what do jokes on cable TV or buzz in big-city advertising circles do for a high school kid in Aberdeen or a teenager on the Rosebud Reservation? The Sioux Falls Argus-Leader reported South Dakota's 2020 budget also includes $1 million for meth treatment services and $730,000 for school-based meth prevention programming.

So $1.4 million for an advertising campaign and $1.73 million for on-the-ground resources. Those numbers seem a little too similar.

In the end, the only thing that will matter is whether the ad campaign helped the citizens of South Dakota. It's way too early to judge that. What we know is that the marketing and advertising industry loves it because it's generating buzz and the almighty "free media," like this column. And, trust me, that's the last metric on which the success of an anti-drug campaign should be based.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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