Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

If you’ve been anywhere near social media in the past week, you’ve probably seen them: memes depicting a very real anti-drug campaign by the State of South Dakota that look like something possibly conjured by satire site The Onion. But these are real… though people may not be getting the intended message… and some say that may be the point.

The name of the campaign is “Meth. We’re on it,” and it features people from all walks of life from farmers to shopkeepers to high school football teams declaring that they’re “on meth.” The point, according to proponents, is to acknowledge the drug problem hurting the state and announcing a commitment to fighting this problem. They’re “on it” in other words. Those words, though, are getting universally mocked online.

South Dakota officials came to the immediate defense of the campaign. Secretary for the Department of Social Services Laurie Gill, said: “We didn’t want this to look like every other anti-drug campaign …”

South Dakota

And South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem came out strong, saying: “The whole point of this ad campaign is to raise awareness … So, I think it’s working!”

“Raising awareness” can be the reason given by a lot of PR campaigns that, often, tend to deliver dubious results. The tightrope being walked by this campaign is the tug of war between getting “eyes on” and people talking versus turning people off and getting laughed out of the public square. At this point, the “Meth. We’re on It.” campaign is hearing a lot of both cheers and jeers.

Critics went after the campaign on social media, offering takes such as: “Rejected options included ‘Meth: Just Do It,’ ‘Meth: for Real Men,’ ‘Meth: Fun, Cheap, Wacky,’ ‘Meth: Bringing Families Together,’ ‘Meth: You Should Buy Some and Use It’ and ‘Got Meth?’”

Another, more statistical take: “The state spent $500,000 to let everyone know we’re on meth.”

Messages such as these were the general trend of the critiques online, but Noem stood firm that, while the campaign raised eyebrows, the situation was no laughing matter, saying: “Meth is IN South Dakota. Twitter can make a joke out of it, but when it comes down to it, meth is a serious problem in SD … We are here to Get. It. Out!”

And it’s that message which Gill and Noem say they want to resonate. And, for some, that’s exactly what’s happening, prompting residents to fire back in support of the campaign. One social comment spread in media stories about the campaign said: “If their slogan had been of the ‘Don’t do meth; it’s bad for you’ ilk no one would be aware of SD’s anti-meth campaign today …”

Governor Noem was quick to support that sentiment, replying, “Exactly!” later adding that this issue “needs to be dinner table conversation to ‘get everyone on it…’”

So, if the goal was to get people talking, mission accomplished. And kudos to the Governor and others for actively engaging critics on social media, politely, to keep the conversation going.

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Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a PR agency which works extensively in digital media and influencer marketing.