Meth. They must be on it.

South Dakota’s PSA anti-Meth campaign is my new favourite ad fail.

The double entendre, that I’m sure Minneapolis ad agency Broadhead thought they were so clever about, has completely missed the mark.

If you were left confused and bemused at your initial look at the creative, you’re in good company – just take a look at Twitter.

Even having worked in branding and marketing for a number of years, I initially thought the campaign was about the endemic closeted use of Meth by people of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds and how that needs to be tackled. Imagine how hard I laughed when the intended campaign sentiment dawned on me.

So, how did South Dakota and Broadhead get it so wrong?

My sense is this idea came to fruition in a bubble. It’s highly unlikely this campaign has a strategy based on solid research or creative that has been validated by impartial ad-testing. Or simply, perhaps no-one challenged the strategy or creative out of fear they were alone in the thinking.

Ultimately, this leads to the enormous faux pas; A flawed strategy, without a credible foundation validated by research, leads to a confusing campaign idea and muddled messaging that does not resonate.

Even I, somewhat blindly, followed the recipe to achieve what was expected of me: you must work hard and put the time in and you will get good grades. If you get good grades you must go to a top university. If you go to a top university you will get a good job. If you get a good job you will be financially stable and this will make you happy.

I would love to know what the discussion leading up to sign off was.

I would love to know what the discussion leading up to sign off was. Perhaps the idea started out as the wild card and it snowballed, with no soul brave enough or objective enough to say “hang on a minute, is this the best strategy to actually stop people using Meth?”.

I don’t think we’ll ever know, but it’s there’s no denying the PSA campaign has landed badly and quite frankly how the South Dakota Government has dealt with it makes me cringe (see Governor Kristi Noem’s tweets).

Possibly the most poignant point is that this PSA campaign is actually not a PSA – it’s a political campaign. Human stories do not feature anywhere in the campaign. This campaign isn’t about helping the people living with, suffering from or recovering from Meth addiction. It’s clear from the unwavering insistence that this campaign is a good idea – essentially making a joke about being on meth – and the fact that Broadhead have been paid a staggering $500,000 that could have been spent on facilities and support services to help addicts.

An expensive ad campaign raising awareness does not help solve the problem in South Dakota. It just announces there is a problem. Carefully crafted strategic communications focused on people, designed with everyone in mind, facilitating well thought through solutions is the only way a PSA can be effective in solving a problem of this scale.

Hem Chauhan
Hem Chauhan