“Meth. I’m on it.” The Potential Danger of South Dakota’s Anti-drug Campaign

South Dakota’s “Meth. We’re on It.” awareness initiative has drawn national attention since its launch Monday. The PSA attempts to present a problem and a solution with one memorable tagline that is also a double entendre: “I’m on it.”

The success of this concept hinges on the clarity of its tagline’s dual meaning. While it’s true that the phrase, “I’m on it,” can signify both “I’m using meth,” and “I’m solving the meth problem,” the campaign as executed by Minneapolis-based marketing and ad agency Broadhead Company fails to offer any solution to the meth problem other than to “be on it.” With a clear solution lacking—and worse, in its place a reiteration of the messaging used to state the problem–only one meaning of the tagline is clear. The PSA’s ultimate message, then, is that everyone is on meth. And this message turns an anti-drug PSA into an advertisement for the drug it aims to fight.

The campaign has incited widespread mockery on social media, with proponents claiming that it is serving its purpose of calling attention to the issue. More important than the humorous backlash this campaign has received, however, is the attention it will receive from its intended audience: South Dakotans—and specifically—those who are young.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of 12- to 17-year-olds who reported using meth in the past year is twice the national average. That is a huge problem, and as a native South Dakotan, I applaud the state’s efforts to amend this problem. But I worry that the current strategy will not only prove ineffective, but worse, could exacerbate the problem.

When a PSA is so poorly executed it becomes an ad for meth, you have to wonder if public awareness is inherently a good thing. How many children will see football players telling the camera, “I’m on meth”–or worse, the static images of football players on billboards with only this text: “METH. WE’RE ON IT.”?

I worry that South Dakota’s well-meaning PSA, running not only on television but on billboards and posters—places young people will see it over and over again—could accomplish the opposite of what it set out to do. It could persuade people who have never done meth to do it.

A PSA intended to be a call to action is not only embarrassingly mock-worthy, but potentially very dangerous.