Meth. South Dakota Is On It.

South Dakota launched a new ad campaign to deal with its methamphetamine crisis. They missed the mark.

South Dakota has embarked on a new public relations campaign to address the state’s methamphetamine crisis. To say that it’s raising eyebrows is an understatement:

South Dakota is on meth — at least, that’s the message behind a new anti-drug ad campaign so widely mocked that one marketing expert could only laugh before calling it “a colossal blunder.”

The “Meth. We’re On It.” awareness initiative was unveiled Monday by South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) to address the state’s methamphetamine crisis. In a news release, officials underscored the importance of combating drug use in a state where twice as many 12- to 17-year-olds reported using meth compared with the national average.

“South Dakota’s meth crisis is growing at an alarming rate. It impacts every community in our state, and it threatens the success of the next generation,” Noem said in a public service announcement. “This is our problem, and together, we need to get on it.”

“Let’s get meth out of South Dakota,” she added.

The state’s Department of Social Services paid a Minneapolis ad agency nearly $449,000 this fall for the effort, the Argus Leader reported, citing the state’s finances website. Several of the advertisements feature photos of people stamped with the “Meth. I’m On It.” motto.

Noem also requested more than $1 million in funding to support meth treatment services, according to the news release, and a website — — promises to connect residents to preventive and treatment resources.

But Bill Pearce, assistant dean at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said any sincere messaging by the governor was lost by an ad campaign that embodies “poor strategy and poor execution.”

“I can’t imagine this is what they intended to do; any good marketer would look at this and say: ‘Yeah, let’s not do that,’ ” Pearce said. “I’m sure South Dakota residents don’t like being laughed at. That’s what’s happening right now.”


“One of the things that struck me is, obviously everyone gets the play on words, they’re trying a twist,” she said. “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.”

Egan was also struck by how much South Dakota spent on the campaign when about 882,235 people live in the state.

“I know they’re not necessarily looking for a financial return, but that’s a lot of money,” she said.

There’s no question that methamphetamine abuse is a crisis that states across the country are struggling to deal with, and we’ve seen anti-drug public relations before, but given the social media reaction I am not sure this is exactly what the state intended:

This is what they paid $450,000 for?

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. CSK says:

    It seems as if their brains might have been on drugs when they approved this.

  2. Moosebreath says:

    I never doubted it.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Worst. Slogan. Ever.

  4. Jen says:

    As a professional communicator, things like this make me weep in frustration.

    A good slogan can highlight and bring attention to a problem and compel people to act. This…does not do that. I simply do not get how this went through multiple rounds of approvals (and trust me, having worked on some of these types of campaigns, there are TONS of approvals) and still got to launch.

    The only thing I can think of is that they went with the lowest bidder on the RFP.

  5. Nightcrawler says:

    I mean, if this slogan was totally acceptable to them, they could have gotten it on Fiverr.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Didn’t anybody….

    I keep being told I should be more respectful of red states.

  7. mattbernius says:

    All I can say is it’s the “marketing” segment from the Homer runs a bowling alley episode of the Simpsons IRL:

    Its definitely generating a record amount of attention based on it’s first 24 hours. But that doesn’t mean they will stay for the message. Either way, it’s going to be a case study fodder for years.

  8. gVOR08 says:


    The only thing I can think of is that they went with the lowest bidder on the RFP.

    Or the governor’s brother in law.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    There’s an event in one of Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels (Murder Must Advertise) where an ad has its illustration swapped out at the last minute, with detrimental effects all around. As Sayers points out, if an “indelicate interpretation” can be made by the British public, that is what they will jolly well do….

    (Since she worked for many years at an advertising agency, this rule-of-thumb was probably drawn from her own experiences.)

  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @grumpy realist: That was my first Wimsey mystery! It prompted me to read all the rest.

  11. EddieInCA says:

    Partly snark, and partly not….

    This is what happens when your best and brightest leave your state. The people left can’t figure out that a slogan that says “Meth. We’re on it.” is NOT a good marketing slogan.

    I’m having a hard time thinking of a worse slogan.

  12. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Not one single person involved could see the problem???

  13. Jen says:

    @gVOR08: Possibly, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I think they went with the low bidder, who lists their expertise in “farm, food and lifestyle brands.”

  14. CSK says:

    @Jen: I think we both must agree that this slogan lacks the insouciant charm and overall je ne sais quoi of “Live Free or Die.”

  15. Not the IT Dept. says:

    A few years ago, New Zealand actually turned to drug users and drunk drivers for advice about what PSA’s might have worked on them. The results were very strong and not at all the usual finger-wagging lectures. Here’s Legend, aimed at teen abuse: and here’s Blazing, aimed at men who drive drunk/stoned:

    Most anti-drug PSAs are designed to validate the sensibilities of people who don’t do drugs or drink too much in the first place. The NZ PSAs feel very – uncomfortably – real.

  16. Kathy says:

    This reminds me of an old SNL sketch about a jingle for a candy bar featuring nuts, which ended with “The bar that’s not very good.” Except it was supposed to be “The bar that’s nut very good,” and the advertising agency guy can’t understand why the candy bar people don’t like it.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: Occasionally I see a fake pub that has the old Guinness posters with the toucan as part of the decor. Dorothy Sayers wrote the copy for those.

  18. Patrick McNicol says:

    Evidently, they are on it.

  19. Monala says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: a recent US example of a powerful PSA is the one put out by Sandy Hook Promise. In it, kids are talking about the great back-to-school items their parents bought them, during an active shooter event: the fast sneakers for fleeing, the bulletproof backpack, the skateboard to break out a window in order to escape. In the last scene, a girl hides in the bathroom, quietly crying, and whispers, “I finally got a cell phone to stay in touch with my mom.” She types, “I love you, Mom,” and hits send, just as the shooter bursts open the bathroom door.

    Here it is:

  20. Gustopher says:

    Is it that bad? We’re all talking about it, so the message has great awareness.

    Now I know that if I want to visit heartland America, and don’t want to be without my meth fix, I can go to the Meth State.

    Also, pot tourism has been great for Seattle, so I can see other cities and states trying to capture that magic. Kudos to them for breaking out of stereotypes and showing older, whiter meth users.

  21. Liberal Capitalist says:


    The advertising firm of Bevis, Butthead & Pullmyfinger saw NO problem with it at all!

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    So, an ad agency in sophisticated, liberal Minneapolis produced this? And no one saw it? Really?

    Or did they smoke a blunt and laugh their asses off at the gullible goobers?

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: Well, there’s controversial…and then there’s getting laughed at by the rest of the U.S. for your cluelessness.

    (South Dakota: where the brains aren’t.)

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s pretty simple guys. When they approved this ad campaign? They were on meth.

  25. PJ says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    here’s Blazing, aimed at men who drive drunk/stoned

    That one is directed by Taika Waititi (probably most well known for Thor 3), who later cast one of the boys in it, Julian Dennison, to star in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Which then got Dennison the part of Firefist in Deadpool 2.

    All very much recommended.

  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Michael, I’m just coming back from Minneapolis, this poor city is suffering from terminal wokeness. The city’s homicide total is twice that of Boston, yet the population is a third smaller. Citizens don’t want to take public transportation at night since it is overrun with thugs and the downtown retail and entertainment businesses are threatening to shutdown do the petty crime and assaults. Yet the city counsels response is that those who complain can’t abide diversity.

    It’s not NYC in the 70’s but reminiscent of that.

    Encouragingly the biggest push back is coming from the neighborhoods effected, downtown the business association and in the poorer neighborhoods, the neighborhood associations. Common line of argument coming from those is; “why should poor children need to walk on sidewalks that are littered with used needles.

    The fact that such a lame PSA campaign is coming from Minneapolis is not surprising.

  27. Kari Q says:


    This is what happens when your best and brightest leave your state. The people left can’t figure out that a slogan that says “Meth. We’re on it.” is NOT a good marketing slogan.

    South Dakota is not suffering brain drain, though. It’s population has grown at a 1% rate since 2010, and it attracts a lot of businesses because of its low tax policies. Sioux Falls (the largest city in state) is growing faster than the national average.

    But the state capitol is Pierre (pronounced ‘peer”). Maybe they should have run this by a few folks in Sioux Falls, where all the smart people are moving.

    My parents both grew up in South Dakota and most of my relatives still live there. There’s definitely a culture shock when I visit from California, but Sioux Falls is a pretty vibrant city with a growing population. It’s a nice place.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @EddieInCA: In fairness to the “leadership” in SD, they were counting on the ad agency to know a good slogan. You can’t blame the state leaders for this; it’s an honest mistake.

    ETA: There’s a SF law firm that advertises nationally that went from MFSB to MoFo, so this type of tone deafness isn’t particularly rare.

  29. Gustopher says:

    From one of the articles Doug links to:

    Broadhead also proposed two “I’m On Meth” radio concepts that feature people whose lives have been touched by meth. In one of the spots, a man discusses how “normal, sober people” can become addicted to meth after only one hit and meth users get younger every year. He urges people to become proactive about the epidemic before it kills their community.

    I would like to repeat: “meth users get younger every year.”

    That has to be the follow up campaign. It just has to. Who wouldn’t want to be younger?

    If they keep this up, meth will be the most popular drug in South Dakota. They need to get rid of that “only losers take meth” reputation meth has, with a few celebrity endorsements.

    I’m thinking of Lou Reed’s song “Heroin,” and how meth needs something like that. Is there a famous South Dakota musician popular with the kids that they can bring in on this? And I’m thinking either Tom Jones or Tony Bennett to appeal to older markets. Neil Diamond could also work.

    Ok, I don’t know who the young musician we need is, but then get Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga to cover their meth anthem in a slower, lounge act style, and we can make meth cool for all age ranges.

    And maybe some ads where top Hollywood actors turn their noses up at cocaine, and insist on meth.

    Meth: We’re on it. Why aren’t you?

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: Before I went to Korea, a district that I used to substitute teach at had me come to the high school to cover senior classes on prom nite. The department I was working for was the one that had mandatory classes that all the seniors took so it was our responsibility to show them the “scare ’em straight” movies the district checked out. At one point I stopped the video and noted that the girls in the scene were practicing the field sobriety test while drinking to accustom themselves in case they got pulled over, noting that you can learn almost any physical skill while drunk, so yeah, it works… sorta.

    At the end of the video, I closed with “we’re supposed to tell you not to drink and drive tonight and I hope that you have safe options prepared. but I also know that I’m just a teacher and you don’t really care what I think, so instead, I’ll remind you that the statistically safe seat in a car full of drunks is the one with the steering wheel in front of it and that if someone gets to live it might as well be you, so stick up for your rights.”

    The room suddenly got deathly quiet as I also reminded them that passion is fleeting and true love may last a life time, but either way, child support is to 25 in the jurisdiction in which they lived.

    I never quite understood why, but that school booked me a week ahead the next year to cover for prom night.

  31. Kari Q says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Minneapolis is dealing with growth of 8%. That puts a lot of strain on people and infrastructure. It’s nearly impossible to adapt quickly enough.

  32. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Kari Q:

    Kari, to a person the people that I spoke with work in community development related non-profits and live in city neighborhoods such as Longfellow, Northeast, Phillips and Powderhorn. None are living in the tony lake districts, southwest or even the comfortably middle class Nokomis/Minnehaha. To dismiss the issues that the city is facing as simply the spill over from growth is an example of the denial that permeates the city’s leadership.

    There has been a great increase of home ownership in some of the most chronically poor neighborhoods in the city and now those same families, primarily Hispanic and African migrants are talking about leaving. That is not good.

    When I was there, the hot rumor is that Somali business owners, tired of waiting for the city to deal with the drug addicts who sit outside their business and begging and intimidating customers who don’t give them money, are taking the matters into their own hands by sticking guns in the faces of the addicts and telling them to leave. Not a good situation.

    On a positive note, the Native American community deserves a huge atta boy for their work in improving the lives of their community.

  33. Kari Q says:

    @Sleeping Dog:


    Rapid growth causes a lot of problems, starting with soaring home values, which leads to overcrowding, which particularly impacts working class and more affordable neighborhoods. Crimes rates increase but the police departments almost certainly can’t grow as fast as they need to, and they can’t get the experienced officers they need. Schools are overcrowded, but building new schools and hiring enough good teachers to staff them is impossible. Traffic intensifies, pollution increases, and cultures clash and racial hostility seems to appear out of no place.

    The town I grew up in experienced extremely rapid growth in the 90s and it has never really recovered. I’m hardly being ‘dismissive’ when I say that rapid growth in a big problem.

    Now, I’ve got friends in Minneapolis too. Not one of them says “woke culture” is the problem, nor do I think it’s a helpful attitude. My hometown was pretty hardcore Republican when all this happened, so ‘woke culture’ wasn’t involved. With the best will in the world, community leaders are going to be overwhelmed when that happens.

  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    You can’t blame the state leaders for this; it’s an honest mistake.

    Yes, it’s an honest mistake, a really really dumb/stupid/idiotic mistake, but an honest one. Part of learning from one’s mistakes is taking responsibility for them. I’m not making any excuses for these people.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Great story about a job well done.

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: It all depends on perspective. The people you talked to appear to see all the problems. I have family in MSP, been there for over 30 years. Raised their children there who are now scattered over both sides of the river raising their own families. The only thing I hear from them is how much they love living there and don’t want to live anyplace else.

    There has been a great increase of home ownership in some of the most chronically poor neighborhoods in the city and now those same families, primarily Hispanic and African migrants are talking about leaving. That is not good.

    This is nothing new. In fact it happens every time with immigrants. They move into the poorer neighborhoods because it’s what they can afford. They work their asses off to make a better life for themselves, including buying their own homes where they can afford them. Time passes, they improve their homes as best they can, they continue to accumulate wealth little by little, and then… They move on. Why? Because they can. Nobody wants to live in a shitty neighborhood.

    In my 61 years I have seen this pattern several times.

    When I was there, the hot rumor is that Somali business owners, tired of waiting for the city to deal with the drug addicts who sit outside their business and begging and intimidating customers who don’t give them money, are taking the matters into their own hands…

    The “hot rumor”. I take it you never talked to anyone who actually did this? Or anyone who had actually witnessed such an event? Always it was a friend of a friend who had a brother in law who’s cousin twice removed saw it happen? Urban tales take on a life of their own and while there may be an actual incident that they are based on, they bear very little resemblance to the truth.

    Many years ago I was going thru an epically bad divorce and discussing it with a friend at a Benton Park bar. My frustration got me to the point where I had to do something, so I got up and walked out. Went down the street to my truck, pulled a pipe out of the back of it and wailed away on it. Stopped. was about to throw the pipe back into the bed when I realized, “Nope, not done yet.” and wailed on it some more. Finally I felt better. Threw the pipe into the bed and turned to head back into the bar. Some members of the band were standing on the other side of the street, frozen in place with eyes as big as dinner plates and wishing desperately for the power of invisibility.

    I looked at them, shrugged and said, “It’s OK, it’s my truck.” and went back into the bar feeling much better.

    3 weeks later I was in a Soulard bar catching some music. I’m standing at the bar trying to get a couple beers for me and my friends when a guy sitting on the stool next to me starts relating this really wild tale about some super pissed off guy on angel dust who took a pipe to a dozen cars over on Russell st….. He was halfway thru it before I figured out he was talking about me. 3 or 4 details were accurate, the rest was fill in the blank bullshit added in to make the story “better” one telling at a time.

  36. Kingdaddy says:

    ‘With a name like Fluckers, it’s got to be good.”

  37. Justin says:

    Not surprised given how badly SD has handled things with a lock em up approach.

  38. wr says:

    @Kathy: Worse, it’s like the Monty Python sketch about the ad man who rebrands Conquistador Instant Coffee as Conquistador Instant Leprosy and comes up with the slogan “Gives a new meaning to the word vomit.”w

  39. grumpy realist says:

    So who do we believe is stupider, South Dakota or Prince Andrew of the U.K. (a.k.a Mr. “I didn’t trash my reputation enough in the first TV interview, so I want to do it all over again.”)

  40. Dutchgirl says:

    It’s stupid and the worst slogan ever and….. everyone is talking about it. No such thing a bad publicity? Would a great slogan ever have made it out of SD? Just musing as I sip my coffee.

  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dutchgirl: If publicity was all they were trying to get, job well done. But they were trying to impress upon people the stupidity of meth. Instead the impression they left with people is that they are as dumb as a box of rocks. Would you take advice from a piece of granite? Basalt? Dolomite? Rhyolite?

  42. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So, an ad agency in sophisticated, liberal Minneapolis produced this? And no one saw it? Really?

    I cannot speak for the main Agency, but I actually know folks at one of thier holding companies (Rabbit). What’s word is those folks (Rabbit) are super smart and do good work.

    I have no idea what the main agent was thinking here. Like I said, I am looking forward to the case study.