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If you are a policy leader in a state where the youth methamphetamine use rate is more than twice the national average, I can understand having the urge to do something, anything to reverse that trend.

But South Dakota’s approach to solving the problem with an ad campaign seems to have created a louder, sharper backfire than Don Blankenship’s attempt last year to discredit the Senate Majority Leader with his unintentionally laughable “Cocaine Mitch” ad spots. The ads were so far off the mark that McConnell began raising reelection funds by selling sweatshirts bearing the unlikely nickname.

Last week, South Dakota unveiled its new anti-drug campaign, “Meth. We’re on it.” The campaign’s attention-grabbing double meaning has been a singular failure in generating support from a majority of South Dakota residents, many of whom believe it’s made their state the topic of national ridicule.

The ad features very sober ranchers, high school athletes, nurses and others saying they “are on it,” in reference to meth, as in being aware of the drug’s widespread abuse and being willing to do what they can to solve it, as opposed to being addicts themselves. In the same way that a joke that has to be explained is probably not that funny, an advertising slogan that’s caused so much confusion probably isn’t all that effective.

By the time the anti-meth campaign is fully rolled out, the 800,000-resident state will have paid $1.4 million to the Minnesota ad agency awarded the anti-meth contract.

South Dakotans have reason to be suspicious of ad campaigns rolled out by state agencies for their supposed benefit.

Take the 2015 marketing effort to draw tourists and new residents by touting the advantages of living in South Dakota, rather than attempting to survive on Mars, as 200,000 Americans had signed up to do that year by reserving one-way passage to the red planet through the sketchy Mars One Project.

“Mars. The air is not breathable. The surface is cold and barren,” the ads began. In comparison, South Dakota is “progressive, productive and has an abundance of oxygen,” not to mention jobs and an abundance of things for living people to do.

“Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?” the ads concluded.

The previous year, South Dakota rolled out a public safety ad on winter driving that was yanked from the airwaves in short order. There were no objections to the basic content of the ads, which urged drivers to steer and brake gently on snow-covered roads. But the ad’s tagline, “Don’t jerk and drive,” was another matter.

So, what lies ahead for public service spots in South Dakota? Maybe the state will attempt to reduce violent crimes with a “Homicide prevention: We’re killing it!” campaign.

Or better yet, rework the new anti-meth project.

In my view, it could use some serious tweaking.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.