A story in this week’s newsletter is already being discussed intently online, so let’s jump in. Let’s start with True’s version of the story, from the 24 November 2019 issue:
You’d Have to Be on Drugs
to Think this Was a Good Idea
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem personally launched a new ad campaign to combat her state’s methamphetamine epidemic, which is “growing at an alarming rate,” she says. “It is filling our jails and prisons, clogging our court systems and stretching our drug treatment capacity.” So far, the state has paid Broadhead Co., a Minneapolis, Minn., marketing and ad agency, nearly a half million dollars toward a $1.4 million contract to come up with the attention-getting campaign. “This is our problem, and together, we need to get on it,” said the Republican governor. “This a bold, innovative effort like the nation has never before seen.” The tagline for the campaign: “Meth. We’re On It.” (RC/Sioux Falls Argus Leader) …It does seem so.
Reaction is Pretty Much Universal
Marketing experts are calling the campaign “a colossal blunder,” reports the Washington Post. “Obviously everyone gets the play on words, they’re trying a twist,” said Beth Egan, an associate professor for advertising at Syracuse University. “But what they’re missing is that 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.”
Indeed, “Any good marketer would look at this and say: ‘Yeah, let’s not do that’,” said Bill Pearce, the assistant dean at the University of California/Berkeley’s School of Business. “Nobody thought about the ramifications. The Twitter reactions are hysterical.”
The print ads (example shown here) feature ordinary people from the state with a giant, superimposed message, “METH. I’M ON IT.” That just makes it look like “everyone” in the state is using the drug. The real epidemic is in the 12(!!) to 17 age range: that group in South Dakota has twice the rate of meth use than the national average, yet they’re the least likely to see the ad messages, marketing wonks say.
The governor is fighting back. “South Dakota’s anti-meth campaign launch is sparking conversations around the state and the country,” Noem said. “The mission of the campaign is to raise awareness — to get people talking about how they can be part of the solution and not just the problem. It is working.” Dean Pearce rejects that: “There’s another trope that goes, ‘When they’re running you out of town, pick up a baton and pretend you’re leading the parade’,” he said.
They’re even claiming a trademark (TM) on the logo and/or tagline: they’re not just on it, they’re all in.
It’s obvious why this is an “effort like the nation has never before seen.” But hey: at least the state succeeded in the goal “to get people talking”! Let’s hope the campaign actually does some good.
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