What a Meth’d up campaign

‘Meth. We’re on it.’ Is this really the message we want to send?

Monday, Gov. Kristi Noem, rolled out the state’s new anti-drug campaign, which features a catchy, albeit confusing slogan:  “Meth. We’re on it.” A slogan, may I add, that the governor herself is never heard saying anywhere on the campaign’s website, which is located at OnMeth.com.

The fact that Noem won’t actually say the slogan in any of the advertising she’s involved in is troubling because it indicates to me that she knows how easily the slogan can be misinterpreted and misappropriated. I know this seems like a minor semantics point, but it’s the words themselves that are so important in this situation, and when the governor won’t even use the slogan she’s expected to endorse, that’s kind of a red flag.

There appear to be many different reasons people are not happy about this campaign, produced by a Minnesota-based marketing firm, Broadhead, LLC: using a pun to address a serious drug epidemic, which, in Noem’s own words, “is a crisis,” that, “threatens the success of the next generation,” makes the whole campaign seem like it’s making light of a very serious issue, it could be interpreted to sound like all South Dakotans are claiming to be on meth, and the overall badness of the slogan is distracting and diverting from the actual issue it’s meant to highlight to name a few. 

Now, I enjoy a good double entendre as much as the next guy, but this is not one. My beef with the state’s new slogan is how it absolutely fails as an anti-drug slogan across the board. The phrase “We’re on it” sounds more like an endorsement for drug use.

I know what it means when someone says, “I’m on it,” I use the phrase myself all the time. 

“Honey, can you take out the garbage?”

“I’m on it.”

“Honey, can you pick up a pizza for dinner?”

“I’m on it.”

It’s an inherently positive statement with no negative connotations unless you’re using it as a literal statement to describe something bad that’s happening.

”Hey, did you hear? The Titanic is sinking!”

“I know, I’m on it.” 

It’s the kind of phrase that would make for a dandy ketchup ad though – Heinz 57 Ketchup: “Burgers. We’re on it,” “Fries. We’re on it,” “Scrambled eggs. We’re on it.”

But as an anti-drug slogan, it’s off-point. 

An anti-drug slogan can be pithy and memorable, sure, but it needs to send a clear message to listeners that drugs are bad, not a veiled and belittling jape that doesn’t sound quite right, and only gets worse the more you hear it.

Imagine, if instead of “Just Say No,” a very clear anti-drug message Nancy Reagan had come out with her anti-drug campaign, with the slogan, “Just say drugs.”

An anti-drug slogan needs to tell people in very few words that we are against drugs, we don’t have time to sit down with folks and explain the nuance of hyperbole. Something snappy like “Take meth out of South Dakota,” “South Dakota: clean up this meth,” “Meth. Does a body bad,” “Meth. Is. Bad,” Literally anything else!

By the way, to any Department of Social Services officials, if you’re reading this; you can use any of those suggestions. You don’t even have to pay us, just fix what you’ve done.

Let’s linger on that for a moment, dear friends, what has our government done? I’m sure the South Dakota Department of Social Services had their reasons for choosing an out-of-state marketing firm for this campaign, and maybe they were even good reasons, but look at the optics of the situation. Essentially our government spent almost a-half-a-million South Dakota taxpayer dollars in another state for them to make us the laughing stock of the entire country. 

They enlisted the services of Broadhead LLC to help create a campaign to combat a meth epidemic in South Dakota. According to a statement released by the South Dakota Advertising Federation, more than nine in-state advertising agencies expressed interest in working with the Department of Social Services on this campaign. Wouldn’t you think a South Dakota company might have had, maybe, a little more buy in on creating an effective and profound campaign that directly affects the state they call home? And while we’re on the subject, let’s look at some numbers. According to a fact sheet provided by the “Meth. We’re on it,” campaign, around 101 pounds of meth was seized in the state of South Dakota in 2018, while the Star Tribune, a Minneapolis based newspaper, reported in their May 24 edition, “More than 2 tons of meth was confiscated in 2018 in Minnesota, according to state and federal law enforcement officials,” So how about  “Meth. They’re on it more.”

At this point, to be fair, I should point out that the entire point of advertising is to draw attention; so perhaps there is a METHod to the madness because here I am writing about it, here you are reading about it, and here South Dakota is in the national spotlight. For better or worse, the state’s campaign has the whole country talking, much like those football players a while back who took a knee during the National Anthem in protest for civil rights. That cause was lost in the controversy of the act. Will this be a repeat of that wasted moment? Will the message our officials wish to convey be overshadowed by the ridiculousness of how it sounds? Right now that seems to be the case, and when the smoke clears and the dust settles, and the late night talk show hosts have forgotten all about us, will the conversation pivot back to the real issue, and will real change take place, or will all that remains of this public relations mis-step be the memory of that off point slogan our tax payer dollars were used to pay and out of state marketing firm way too much to come up with?

Only time will tell, dear governor, but now that you have the entire country paying attention to the meth problem in South Dakota, what are you going to do about it?  

Alex Portal is a reporter at the Black Hills Pioneer.

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