South Dakota just spent half a million tax dollars on a gag.
And it was worth it.
The campaign is called “Meth. We’re on it,” featuring portraits of South Dakotans with variations of the phrase “I’m on meth.” It aims to publicize the gravity of the state’s public health crisis and promote resources to help.
The internet had a field day. Most of the reaction was critical or teasing. But people were talking about it. All of a sudden a state-level campaign went viral. South Dakota is as far away from the county’s media radar as a place can get. But now lawmakers, reporters and citizens in South Dakota and nationwide now know more about the issue than they did before.
It is tough -- damn tough -- to move the needle on a difficult, personal and complicated topic with just a single campaign.
A few years ago, Ceisler Media worked with Donate Life PA. You’d think the campaign would be simple: Organ donation saves lives, so register as an organ donor. (Seriously, please do) But the problem is, everyone already knows about donation. A full 95 percent of people say they support it. Yet just 50 percent of eligible people are actually registered. Simply telling people to do the right thing is like telling people that they should eat more vegetables. They’ll nod in agreement, and then go right back to normal.
To make something stand out, you need a hook. Something different. In PA, we started to ask people “What side are you on?” We hoped to frame NOT registering as an active choice they were making, instead of a passive default. Being nice wasn’t enough: We needed to confront people. And we were lucky to be working with a group of leaders in organ donation and at the state who were willing to push the envelope in order to save lives – as well as the creative team at @Pavone Marketing Group who developed the concept.
I poked around and found the previous anti-meth campaign from South Dakota, circa 2016, via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. It’s high-quality. It focuses on themes of danger and testimonial stories. It’s what you would expect. Frankly, it’s everything that online critics argue the “On Meth” campaign should have been instead. But health officials in South Dakota apparently decided the conventional approach wasn’t cutting it and dared to try something new.
It paid off. This week, South Dakota took $449,000 and turned it into a national news story. I predict the earned media value, including traditional media coverage and social media attention, will cover that many times over. I did a quick search in a media reporting database, and the campaign had already earned $3.2 million in television coverage nationwide in just 24 hours. That includes an estimated 800,000 impressions in South Dakota alone (a state with a population of 882,000). And all that is earned media only – it doesn’t include the direct marketing value from South Dakotans who see paid ads and billboards.
Importantly, it’s more than just a gag. The destination website onmeth.com is high quality, mobile-friendly, and a useful resource.
I’m not a South Dakota taxpayer. I don’t get a say in whether that trade-off is worth it. But kudos to the marketing team that created the campaign, @Broadhead. And kudos to Gov. Kristi Noem for shaking off the criticism and sticking to her guns. They wanted to start conversations about an uncomfortable topic, and boy did they.
Keegan Gibson is a Special Projects Manager of Ceisler Media's Pittsburgh office.