When Ad Campaigns Go Wrong

There’s a significant and growing methamphetamine problem in South Dakota, and the state is trying to deal with the many issues — crime, death, health care, and others — that are all part of the problem.  As is typical these days, one element of the state’s response is an ad campaign, to raise awareness and let the citizens of South Dakota know that their state government is addressing the crisis.

1515148b-2d9a-4751-b912-b612a4defb48-meth._were_on_it._images_1So, what ad campaign did South Dakota come up with?  One that features the tag line:  “Meth.  We’re on it.”

I’m serious — that’s really the key line in the ad campaign.

Of course, once the campaign appeared, the inevitable jokes started flowing, and South Dakota has become a bit of a laughingstock.  Newspapers in South Dakota have been weighing in on the campaign and resulting public relations debacle, and you can read some of their editorial reactions here and here.  The prevailing view seems to be that while the campaign may have achieved the goal of raising awareness of South Dakota’s meth problem — after all, it’s undoubtedly received far more national publicity than your average, run-of-the-mill “click it or ticket”-type public safety ad campaign — the embarrassment the state is experiencing due to the campaign probably  isn’t worth it.  And there’s the obvious lingering question:  couldn’t somebody in state government have recognized that this kind of reaction to the campaign was bound to happen?

There’s another, deeper question, too — why South Dakota felt that an ad campaign was needed in the first place.  The production of the ads cost $449,000, and when all of the ad spots are purchased, the total cost of the campaign will be about $1.4 million.  That’s a lot of money, and it’s entirely fair to ask whether it should have been spent on an any ad campaign — even a competently created one that didn’t make South Dakota the butt of jokes.  Wouldn’t the money have been far better spent on state programs that are specifically dealing with the meth problem, rather than ads featuring flinty-eyed ranchers and other South Dakotans?

South Dakota’s disastrous ad campaign may have raised awareness of the meth problem in an unexpected way, but maybe it also will raise awareness of the stupidity and waste caused by governmental TV ad campaigns generally.  Maybe the next time an ad campaign is suggested by a state agency in South Dakota or elsewhere, some thoughtful person will remember the “Meth.  We’re on it” flop, nix the ad campaign, and see that the money is spent instead on actually directly addressing the problem in question.