Is the Governor’s Office of Economic Development finally getting a grip on reality? GOED hired Lawrence & Schiller to conduct focus groups in Peoria, Des Moines, Davenport, Minneapolis, and Rochester to gauge perceptions of South Dakota. GOED chief Pat Costello presented the results to South Dakota economic development officials last week and acknowledged that our low-tax/no-tax messaging doesn’t seem to get traction beyond our borders:
“One of our mantras for business is no state income tax,” Costello said. “That didn’t resonate with individuals. Individuals viewed that as maybe the state doesn’t have good education or fire protection or crime might be high or the park system not adequate. That was almost a quality of life deterrent” [Jodi Schwan, “You Can Die on Mars. Or You Can Live in South Dakota,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.04.19].
The focus groups generally viewed South Dakota as a nice place to visit (Mount Rushmore, Black Hills, Sturgis, Wall Drug, and Corn Palace were among the top ten terms in the focus group perceptions word cloud for South Dakota) but not to stay and work and live:
“They knew lots of travel things, and that’s a testament to our state,” [Lawrence & Schiller director of consumer insights Tracy] Saathoff said. “But at the same time when you think about the prospect of relocating where you’re thinking about a job, there’s not a lot to draw from because you’re limited in your perception.”
“Limited” is an understatement. Consider this feedback from someone in Des Moines when asked about working in South Dakota:
“South Dakota is mainly cattle, sheep, horses, livestock … living off the ranch, taking care of the ranch. It’s not as industrial, not as technical.”
Another from Des Moines:
“If you’re not in that tourism industry, I don’t think the opportunities are there.”
They also thought there weren’t as many opportunities to change employers, and that there were limited opportunities for movement within the company, small family-owned businesses, suburban office parks and lower salaries [Schwan, 2015.04.19].
So how do Saathoff and her team combat these negative perceptions? Shoot ads with diverse South Dakotans talking about their interesting jobs and recreational activities? Yes! Kyle from Harrisburg moved to South Dakota and got a new Harley:
But focusing on meaningful personal narratives is so boring, so old school. Kyle doesn’t move fast enough. We need some peppy graphics, something that will get us on Jon Stewart again. So let’s blow sirens and talk about how life really sucks on Mars:
Mars. The air, not breathable. the surface, cold and barren, but thousands are lining up for a chance to go and never come back.
South Dakota. Progressive. Productive. And abundant in oxygen. Why die on Mars, when you can live in South Dakota?
South Dakota: You Can Live Here [Lawrence & Schiller, ad text, transcribed from video posted by GOED, 2015.04.17].
What dope are they smoking at Lawrence & Schiller? Have they decided that marketing South Dakota is so nearly impossible that every ad campaign for the state must use stunt innuendo, unreliable statistics, and Lake Woebegon irony dressed up in sci-fi graphics? The entire ad translates to “South Dakota: It could be worse.”
The meager scraps of text Lawrence & Schiller devotes to describing South Dakota in this ad dismally fail to tell our story:
- Progressive: really? We fight same-sex marriage in court, we have one of the most regressive tax systems in the U.S., we are governed by a conservative Republican supermajority, we have fewer self-proclaimed liberals than all but four other states, and you call us progressive?! Progressive toward what, more giant stinky feedlots? Lawrence and Schiller just floats this empty word without any connection to the images, the rest of the text, or even the main critiques they are hearing in the focus groups.
- Productive: This term is more accurate: our 2010 per capita GDP in the top 20 among the states, although Wyoming, North Dakota, and Minnesota still beat us. In 2013, our GDP per capita ranked ninth, thanks mostly to big gains in agriculture. Those images flashing behind the words also show a lot of goofing off: fishing, hiking, floating around in hot air balloons, which apparently emphasize Costello’s message that “You can have a great job and go fishing and biking and hiking. The opportunities are abundant [Schwan, 2015.04.19].”
- Abundant in Oxygen: Hee hee, oh so clever. Also not distinguishing South Dakota from any state with which we are competing.
- You Can Live Here: Equally non-distinguishing. You can live anywhere in the United States.
The Kyle ad is a tolerable, straightforward, and effective ad, one man’s narrative about finding success in South Dakota. The Mars ad is an example of the complete separation of message and tactics in advertising. The Mars ad isn’t really about South Dakota. The ad does not tell anyone anything about our state. The ad is simply a grab for Google juice, a kazoo blown really loud by a man running down the street in his underpants with Grumpy Cat on his head.
GOED pretty much confirms the noisemaker nature of the Mars ad:
The young people being targeted by the campaign “are saturated with media,” said Mary Lehecka Nelson, director of marketing for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Something needed to hook them, and we know that demographic spends a lot of time talking about trending topics.”
The idea is for South Dakota to become part of the conversation, instead of trying to direct it with more in-your-face messaging.
“We think the Mars thing is right now,” Costello said. “Once this runs its course, we’ll hitch our message to the next wagon” [Schwan, 2015.04.19].
Meaning doesn’t matter. Just make a funnier noise than everyone else. When people stop laughing, make another noise, and another…
…and I suppose some wise guy will tell me it worked, because here I am blogging about the Mars ad. Grrr.
Schwan tells us the state will spend $3 million over three years on this campaign from the Future Fund—you know, the slush fund Governor Daugaard can spend without any Legislative oversight. If the two ads above are any indication, about half of that money will be wasted.