‘Meth, We’re on It’: South Dakota’s Anti-Meth Campaign Raises Eyebrows

‘Meth, We’re on It’: South Dakota’s Anti-Meth Campaign Raises Eyebrows

South Dakota officials knew before they launched their new campaign against methamphetamine addiction that its tagline would provoke people.

But that was the point.

So when the tagline, “Meth. We’re on it,” was unveiled on Monday — on a new state website and alongside portraits of healthy South Dakotans on football fields and in coffee shops — the state’s leaders embraced the predictable social media blowback as a success.

Some people on Twitter wondered if South Dakota had, in its zeal, missed the double meaning. Others criticized it as tone deaf to the devastation methamphetamine has increasingly wrought on the state. Still others said the attempt to be clever had fallen flat.

“Hey Twitter, the whole point of this ad campaign is to raise awareness,” Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota said in response. “So I think that’s working … #thanks #MethWeAreOnIt.”

The idea for the campaign began last year after Governor Noem took office as the first female governor in the state’s history. A Republican, she has focused on addressing what she has called an “escalating meth crisis” in the state.

“She wanted to do it in a way that got the attention of the citizens,” Laurie Gill, the state’s secretary for the Department of Social Services, said in an interview on Monday night. “We are looking for a way that would cause the citizens to stop, pay attention and understand that we do have a meth issue and that there are resources available.”

She added, “That was the tone going into it, looking for something that would be edgy and that would be able to cut through clutter in advertising and social media.”

South Dakota is not alone in its struggle with meth.

Congress and states nationwide took aggressive action against crystal meth more than a decade ago. Regulations and enforcement made ingredients to make the drug difficult to get in the United States. But foreign operations helped fuel a resurgence in meth in recent years.

In South Dakota, from 2014 to 2018, the state saw a 200 percent increase in people seeking treatment for meth-related addiction, Ms. Gill said. She said that twice as many 12- to 17-year-olds in South Dakota reported using meth in 2018 compared with the national average.

Some groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, have criticized the state for relying too heavily on incarceration of drug users instead of investing in treatment.

The state’s marketing campaign itself is part of a broader effort to target the meth problem that includes rethinking offenses for using it and increasing treatment for those who are addicted.

Last summer, the state asked companies to pitch them on aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns to draw awareness to the meth problem.

One firm, Minneapolis-based Broadhead, pitched a proposal that caught Governor Noem’s eye, Ms. Gill said. She said it included messaging similar to the “Meth. We’re on it” tagline. Broadhead declined to comment on Monday evening, referring questions to the state.

The contract was signed in September. It called for up to approximately $1.4 million to be spent on the campaign, according to state records. The proposal outlined a multipronged effort that includes television advertising, T-shirts and stickers all featuring the tagline.

Ms. Gill said the campaign was slated to run through May and that the state could spend less than the total $1.4 million if it wanted to curtail the campaign. So far, based on the social media reaction, it’s working, she said.

“I would say that we did expect a reaction,” she said. “It’s a play on words. It’s sort of an irony between healthy South Dakotans, that probably very much aren’t meth users, saying ‘Meth. We’re on it.’ The point is everybody is affected by meth. You don’t have to be a user to be affected by meth. Everybody is.”

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