A brand new anti-drug ad campaign by the South Dakota government has the tagline: "Meth. We're on it." The obvious double meaning appears to be intentional, but has drawn derision on social media from all over the country. Still, governor Kristi Noem has declared the campaign a big success. 

An old rancher in a cowboy hat stands in a prairie with a windmill in the background. The caption reads: "Meth. I'm on it." In another ad, three high school football players stand holding their helmets. "Meth. We're on it," it says. 

What the heck? It's not a joke, though it may seem like one. It's South Dakota's new anti-drug ad campaign, called "bold" and "innovative" by governor Kristi Noem. As she explains in a Facebook video posted Monday morning, "The tagline is, 'I'm on meth.' And what it's talking about is that each one of us, no matter who we are, that we're on the case of meth. That we're protecting our family, that we're protecting our friends, that we're protecting our communities from this epidemic that we see."

Given her earnestness and the fact that she doesn't acknowledge the double meaning of the statement, you might be tempted to think that the state and its ad agency somehow missed the obvious other way that tagline could be understood. But no, the campaign's video ad shows that same rancher, a middle-aged lady sitting in a church pew, and others looking at the camera and saying, "I'm on meth." Clearly, the double meaning was created intentionally. Whether or not it was a good idea, though, is a whole other question.

Most on social media seem to think it wasn't. 

"Everybody in South Dakota is spending their evening making meth...memes," one observer tweeted, and indeed they appear to be. For example:

And:

And:

Many South Dakotans complained that their usually ignored state is finally receiving national attention as an object of mirth. Several opined that the state should have learned its lesson five years ago with the #DontJerkAndDrive campaign, intended to discourage people from turning the wheel sharply while driving on snow. That time, too, South Dakota claimed that the obvious double meaning was intentional and supposed to be attention-grabbing. Still the state's Department of Public Safety ended the campaign early, saying it didn't want masturbation jokes to overshadow its "main message of saving lives on the road."

Nevertheless, this time around--at least so far--Noem is insisting to the local press and on social media that the campaign is working exactly as it's supposed to:

The only problem is that while the ad campaign has certainly started a conversation, I don't think the conversation it started is about how to combat meth. Or even about the severity of South Dakota's meth epidemic. Instead, at least online, people seem to be talking about how this ad campaign casts the state in a bad light, and the fact that the state hired an ad agency in Minneapolis to create it, rather than using a local firm.

Whether you think the ad is brilliant or idiotic, the state's financial choices certainly are striking. South Dakota has paid its ad agency $449,000 so far on a contract that says the state will spend up to a total $1.4 million by May 31, 2020. Meantime, South Dakota has budgeted $1 million for meth treatment services. In other words, the state will likely spend dramatically more to tell its citizens they should help those who might be vulnerable to methamphetamine addiction than it will to help them directly. 

There's no question that the meth epidemic is a very tough problem to solve and I'm not sure South Dakota's approach will help solve it. On the other hand, if the goal was to get people talking about the state's new ad campaign, they've been very, very successful.

Published on: Nov 19, 2019
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