Gov. Noem’s meth awareness campaign shifts messaging

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — 25 people have been referred into treatment using South Dakota’s meth awareness campaign as of the beginning of the month, according to the Department of Social Services. As this happens, a KELOLAND News analysis of social media and the campaign website shows the dropping of the “Meth. We’re on It.” message.

It has been almost three months since the campaign launched, immediately causing national attention. In that time, 118 people called or texted the resource hotline.

“The first phase of the campaign has ended, and we have people’s attention,” Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) said in her January State of the State address. “Now we have a rare opportunity. It’s time to turn the conversation to the next phase: treatment programs for our fellow South Dakotans who are suffering from addiction.”

The public-facing campaign has taken a noticeable shift on social media.

Two ads launched last week. Both include a 6-second silent video, with very little reference to “Meth. We’re on It.”

On the first ad, the text says “Get resources to help make sense of a loved one’s addiction and focus on ways to make a change” and the video says, “Support for the one you love.” The ad is displaying on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and the Facebook Ad Network, according to Facebook Ad Library.

A second ad doesn’t include the actress in the original campaign. It is just text and graphics. The video and post have the same text as the first ad.

The only reference in both ads to the original wording is the website URL: The website has also had a subtle, but significant change. The “Meth. We’re on it.” logo was removed from the upper left corner of the site, according to a November 2019 Internet Archive snapshot.

Broadhead is promoting the campaign on its website, including its phrase, “Meth. We’re on it.”

“From Gayle King to The New York Times, seemingly everybody had something to say about the head-turning work, making it one of the most talked-about anti-drug campaigns in the social media era,” Broadhead wrote.

KELOLAND News reached out to Broadhead to discuss the campaign but was referred to the state.

In addition to the ads already released, the agency features two other social media ads designed to share symptoms and an example conversation with someone struggling.

In a November interview with KELOLAND News, Noem alluded to a messaging shift.

“It’s not just a one-week campaign; it is a comprehensive plan to call people to action,” Noem said in our interview.

WATCH the full interview with Gov. Kristi Noem at the end of this story.

A spokesperson for South Dakota’s Department of Social Services said the focus now is education.

“The current focus is on education on treatment resources as well as how individuals in communities can become involved at the local level to fight the meth epidemic. The On website contains information to help tackle this problem from all sides,” Max Wetz said in a statement to KELOLAND News.

According to state records and information from DSS, the state has spent about 83 percent of the nearly $1.4 million budget.

“The remaining budget will be utilized to raise awareness at the local level including toolkits designed for communities, schools and parents to support taking action within their communities,” Wetz said.

The nearly $1.4 million budget was all-encompassing to include shooting and editing commercials and the media buys, according to the original proposal submitted by Broadhead, LLC.

In December, DSS officials told state lawmakers that they were in the process of shooting new commercials with the actors to share more of their backstory. Those haven’t been released yet.

Secretary Laurie Gill also told lawmakers in December that the phase one TV ad campaign only ran for two weeks, and she had expected the new commercial to begin airing in January 2020. It’s unclear if those ads are airing.

Gill also said they were making adjustments within the one-time nearly $1.4 million budget.

“I don’t predict for this particular awareness campaign that we’re going to have any additional costs,” Gill said.

In the December appropriations hearing, Gill presented several goals of the campaign:

  • Reduce the stigma around the disease of addiction
  • Increase awareness about available treatment
  • Decrease arrests and incarcerations due to meth
  • Decrease the number of children displaced from their homes as a result of meth use
  • Decrease the number of youth who try meth
  • Engage South Dakotans as a whole to become involved in community prevention

We also asked Noem about what her definition of success would look like.

The campaign is scheduled to run until May.

A separate Noem initiative aimed at bringing meth prevention education to 40 middle schools in the state is seeing a one-time reduction to its FY20 budget. The state asked to reduce the budget by $500,000.

A DSS spokesperson said that reduction is because of the timing of the launch of the program. Contracts started on Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, crime data shows the meth problem is only getting worse in South Dakota. In data released last week, Sioux Falls Police seizures of meth in 2019 were up 137 percent from the previous year.

The treatment of meth among state-contracted substance use disorder treatment agencies is also rising, according to data released by the state this summer.

Noem’s requested budget calls for $3.7 million to support intensive meth treatment and enforcement. Lawmakers haven’t yet approved the budget.