Meth. We’re On It: Why South Dakota’s New Drug Campaign is Actually Good Ad Copy and Good Public Advocacy

By Casey Halter


Alright. We get it. South Dakota’s new anti-meth campaign is pretty funny. The state’s $1.4 million public awareness initiative: “Meth. We’re on It” took the internet by storm this week, with countless social media, advertising, and public health pundits asking 1) Who did this 2) Why did it cost so much and 3) Who the heck approved that?

As a copywriter who’s covered both the health advocacy and brand advocacy worlds, I’d like to go to bat for the stunt. Not only is this campaign hugely successful from an advertising standpoint — it’s also a major win when it comes to destigmatizing the U.S. addiction epidemic.

Now, hear me out. The campaign, created by Minneapolis-based marketing agency Broadhead Co. has a few great things going for it. For one thing, it went viral within its first 24 hours — no small feat for a drug awareness push launched by one of the country’s least-populous (but admittedly pretty PR-savvy) states. It also has people across the United States talking about an emerging drug epidemic that has so far been under-reported and underfunded across the country.

As South Dakota Governor Kristi Noam recently told media pundits who lambasted the state’s campaign: “This is a huge issue. And we’re willing to do what we have to do to get people on it.”

In fact, just as the U.S. opioid epidemic has finally started to wane, methamphetamine use is surging in parts of the country. According to recent data from the South Dakota Department of Public Health, the number of young people reporting meth use has nearly doubled over the past year across the state, leaving first responders and addiction treatment providers struggling to address a growing crisis.

This is where “Meth. We’re on it” truly shines. Previously, states have launched big, fear-based campaigns to combat public addiction. Think the 1980s “Crack is Whack” campaign, or the ‘90s “This is Your Brain on Drugs.” But public health research shows that shaming people for their addiction or scaring young people to not do drugs is rarely effective at combatting addiction or raising awareness. Instead, South Dakota’s campaign uses people-first, first-person stories of addiction to demystify, destigmatize, and shed light on the crisis.

According to SD health officials, “Meth. We’re on it” will roll out across various mediums in the coming weeks, from posters to billboards to radio spots with the aim of educating South Dakota on the signs of addiction and highlighting strategies to engage communities in recovery, not shame.

As for the budget, it’s important to note that Broadhead didn’t just get a massive payout for a controversial tagline. As recently leaked documents laying out the exact budget of the campaign show, most of that money went to focus groups, market research and paying TV networks, PR firms, radio, and out-of-home advertisers to spread the word.

What’s more, South Dakota’s 2020 budget doesn’t just talk the talk. It also includes $1 million for meth treatment services and $730,000 for school-based meth prevention programs across the state. South Dakota also implemented several meth task forces to combat the epidemic in tandem with the now-viral campaign launch — backing up their words with actions that show the awareness push’s true purpose and intentions.

As for who approved “Meth. We’re on it” in the first place, you can blame the entire state of South Dakota for that, which reviewed 18 proposals from agencies across the country vying for the campaign. According to Governor Noam, Broadhead’s idea was chosen because it decided to shift the message around addiction from shame to empowerment — with a campaign that was inclusive, culturally-appropriate, attention-grabbing, and instantly refreshing from both a copywriting and a public health perspective.