The campaign, launched by the state's Department of Social Services on Monday, centers around a single, four-word phrase — "Meth. We're on it."
Launched along with a brand new website, OnMeth.com, the campaign aims to fight methamphetamine addiction in a state, where, according to a 2016 study, 3.8 percent of all young people had tried the drug.
But it was the state's execution, not its intentions, that generated backlash. The campaign was also rolled out with a series of promotional photos, which displayed seemingly healthy people — including elderly farmers and high school football players — underneath the now-infamous messaging.
Plenty of people took issue with the campaign, which, according to the Argus Leader, the state paid a marketing agency nearly $450,000 to create. Social media users quickly weighed in with everything from serious criticism to jokes about the slogan's irony.
"Are we sure this isn't a pro-meth campaign?" journalist Laura Bassett wrote.
"I suppose the state's Badlands will be known as the 'Breaking Bad Lands,'" radio host Lou Brutus commented.
METH. WE’RE ON IT. South Dakota state government spent $500k on an ad campaign to let everyone know they’re on meth. 😂 I suppose now the state’s badlands will be known as the “Breaking Bad Lands.” pic.twitter.com/Iq3HDA9o0g— Lou Brutus (@LouBrutus) November 19, 2019
State government officials, on the other hand, have defended the campaign. Gov. Kristi Noem said Monday that she's glad the slogan is being discussed so heavily.
"Hey Twitter, the whole point of this ad campaign is to raise awareness. So I think that’s working... #thanks #MethWeAreOnIt," Noem tweeted.
The idea reportedly began when Noem, the first female governor in state history, was elected last year. The New York Times reported that the governor has sought to tackle what she calls South Dakota's "escalating meth crisis."
"[Noem] wanted to do it in a way that got the attention of the citizens," Laurie Gill, the state’s secretary for the Department of Social Services, said on Monday. "We are looking for a way that would cause the citizens to stop, pay attention and understand that we do have a meth issue and that there are resources available."
Gill also told NBC News that the state didn't want "Meth. We're on it." to look like any other anti-drug campaign. So far, the state has said its slogan has been effective in bringing more attention to the issue. And some people seem to agree.
"If their slogan had been of the "Don't do meth; it's bad for you" literally no one would be aware of [South Dakota's] anti-meth campaign today," one Twitter user said.
I hope you've all figured out that South Dakota's ad agency knows exactly what it's doing and you're giving them the attention they wanted? (If their slogan had been of the "Don't do meth; it's bad for you" ilk literally no one would be aware of SD's anti-meth campaign today.)— David Jarman (@DavidLJarman) November 18, 2019