Big Win or Big Joke?
South Dakota’s meth campaign drew a lot of attention recently. But was it good attention? Or is it a big joke?
It depends on who you ask. As a native South Dakotan, the majority of the comments I’ve seen about this campaign are from friends and family who still live in the state. Most of their comments – and those on local news outlets Facebook pages – are overwhelmingly negative. Either they view it as a joke or they are outraged at the amount of money spent on its development. (Or both….)
However, there are positive comments about it over on LinkedIn – complemented by an equal amount of negatives. The positive comments center on the fact the collective public is talking about the campaign – it is getting attention and starting conversations.
And the negative comments center around the use of double entendre, the amount of money spent on the production of this campaign, and the fact it was done by an out-of-state agency. There are also comments questioning whether adequate message testing was completed and how other agencies in South Dakota (specifically the tourism board) feel about what is becoming a new tagline for the state – one that is in conflict of South Dakota being a vacation destination.
I have mixed feelings.
Shock factor headlines are always a risk. They are intended to immediately grab your attention and get you talking about whatever product or service the ad is promoting. This one certainly does that. And it does draw attention to the meth problem in South Dakota. I certainly have learned more facts about that in the last several days than I knew previously.
But when the whole country is focused on the CREATIVE message rather than the problem, it is hard to say this campaign was a success.
Let’s break down the message
- Know the problem you are trying to solve. Did South Dakota? Yes, to some degree. They know they have a problem – I saw a stat that said in the first half of 2019 over 2200 meth-related arrests were made in 50 out of the 66 counties in the state.
- Who has this problem? I think this is one point where the methods to develop this campaign start to get a bit murky. One would think the audience is those who are USING meth – since the intention of the ad is to address the problem the state is facing with meth addiction/distributing. But the message is more universal – speaking to any and all about the role they can play to combat the drug problem. So when you consider the broad appeal of the message, you need to take into consideration the broader culture of the state. What is the personality? What does the brand of South Dakota stand for?
- Know the external, internal and philosophical problems of your audience. External – meth is a problem. Internal – those on meth are losing their livelihood, their homes, are in need of help. The philosophical problem there are twice as many 12-17-year-olds reporting using meth compared to the national average. This is a problem that needs attention.
- What is the solution? The solution the state is offering also seems ill-defined. And that comes from trying to speak to too many audiences. The website set up to support the campaign directs people to treatment programs and support available throughout the state. But is that the solution those using meth are going to respond to? Or is more help necessary? And what are those people who want to help, how do they do that? Again, the answers to those questions are probably found on the website but there is a lot left for interpretation here. The call to action on the campaign ads is to go to the website.
My thought is the audience and the call to action are both ill-defined. And creating a successful campaign while trying to speak to two different audiences, with two different motivations, but one call to action – that is tough.
Advertisers no longer have control over the conversation. You need to be mindful of how consumers are gonna take it and run with it in their own way.Beth Egan, Associate Professor of Advertising, Syracuse University
One comment I found on a local TV station’s Facebook page from a woman who has been off meth for 10 years said that the campaign message did not and would not have appealed to her while she was using the drug.
For the sake of the people in South Dakota, I hope the campaign does become a success. I hope they see a decrease in the number of meth arrests across the state and an increase number of people seeking treatment at the facilities/services presented on the website.
And one success for now – there are a lot more people talking about South Dakota than there were a week ago.
As always, in pursuit of purpose,
Resources cited in this episode:
- ‘Meth. We’re on it,’ says South Dakota in a ridiculed ad campaign that cost $449,000, Washington Post
- South Dakota baffles rest of America with new drug slogan ‘Meth. We’re on it.’ AdWeek
- WCCO interview with Kristi Piehl, CEO of Media Mindfield, about ‘Meth. We’re on it.’
- KELO-Land TV Facebook posts regarding the South Dakota meth campaign
- Do a content search on LinkedIn of “South Dakota meth campaign” – you will find a lot of posts with opinions on both sides of the win/joke debate
- Who’s your target audience?