South Dakota’s “Meth. We’re on it” campaign made a splash on Monday when #MethWeAreOnIt began trending nationally on Twitter. However, the attention wasn’t all positive for the campaign. Many criticized the initiative as a failure. While the slogan was meant to be clever, some argued it was insensitive to those suffering from and affected by drug addiction. 

The state spent $449,000 to develop the campaign with Minneapolis agency Broadhead. Despite the backlash, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem stands by the initiative, writing in a Twitter post that “the whole point of this ad campaign is to raise awareness. So I think that’s working.”

So, was the campaign a flop? Or is any PR good PR? We reached out to industry experts to get their take on the campaign. Here’s what they had to say.

Ken Begasse

CEO and founder, Concentric Health Experience

I had a client who would say “too clever by half” when creative got in the way of the message. I’d say, “Meth. We’re on it” fits the bill. When provocation is trivial and without empathy for the destruction meth addiction brings to the community, it could be seen as tone deaf. A key learning here is that you need to get out in-front of campaigns that are intended to spark a conversation and build a larger platform for productive dialogue to find the common ground on the issue. 

We know this well, having had our own provocative campaign “PPD. Silence Sucks” hit the mainstream media conversation. While “ Meth. We’re on it” may have missed the tonal mark, it certainly has succeeded in sensationalizing the conversation on an epidemic most would rather ignore, just like “PPD. Silence Sucks” did.

Deb Gabor

CEO of Sol Marketing 

Meth. Are they on it? That’s the question I asked myself about South Dakota’s new anti-meth ad campaign. The new slogan and accompanying stock images declare to the world, “Meth. We’re on it.” After you get over your initial shock, you can kind of see where they might be coming from – yes, we’re aware that there is a problem, and we are addressing it. But the tone-deafness of the message obliterates any good work done for awareness. 

Here are my questions: Did they market-test this? Did they consider the possible negative ramifications, including the ill effect on South Dakota’s brand? Did anyone stop for a second to consider that declaring that you’re on the same drug that has undone millions of lives and families might be a PR disaster? Did they hire Walter White to come up with this messaging?

I applaud the state for wanting to invest significantly to address a serious health issue that’s plaguing their state. But this event does not support the idea that all publicity is good publicity. What’s the point of attracting attention and receiving earned media consideration in the form of media coverage and social media sentiment if it’s mostly designed to make fun of the campaign? The tone-deafness and inappropriateness of the campaign definitely overshadows its intended strategy and messaging. 

Christian Bauman

President and chief creative officer, H4B Chelsea

Some are arguing that any PR is good PR and if people are talking about it, then it’s positive. That’s not my take. My take is that it’s bad copywriting and no amount of spin will make it otherwise.

Being a good creative includes thinking through the implications of your proposals and not talking yourself into really bad ideas because you’re impressed with your own cleverness.