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Creative South Dakotans Agree: We Deserve Better Than GOED Mars Ad

Hugh Weber, Sioux Falls social entrepreneur
Hugh Weber, Sioux Falls social entrepreneur

Hugh Weber of Sioux Falls is just the kind of guy the infamous “Why die on Mars when you can live in South Dakota?” ad cooked up by Lawrence & Schiller with our tax dollars to promote our fair state. Weber is young (-ish, at 37). He’s a creative social entrepreneur who loves stirring multiple pots. Since 2009, he’s brought South Dakotans, North Dakotans, and Minnesotans together in annual OTA conferences to talk about what we can dream and do here on the prairie.

Weber says we can do better than cheeky ads pining for late-night jokes. He launches his critique by quoting business columnist Jodi Schwan’s excuse for the Lawrence & Schiller Mars ad, then explaining what she, Lawrence & Schiller, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development are getting wrong with the attitude Schwan expresses:

“I think it’s important to remember the whole idea is to capture people’s attention.”

I believe the entire conversation about the “You Can Die on Mars” campaign and the two stories written about it comes down to whether the statement above is true. If capturing attention for a moment — from individuals or late-night TV producers — is “the whole idea,” it just might be a success. However, if attracting top-tier talent across sectors and building a regional culture of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, network-thinking and excellence is the goal, I’m deeply concerned with this approach.

I’ve received two dozen emails on this topic since I asked my social network how they felt about it last week. None was encouraging. Few were amused. All agreed that the people of this region and those we hope to attract deserve much better [Hugh Weber, “Does ‘Spectacle’ or Does Culture Attract Top Talent?” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.04].

Weber says OTA inspires young entrepreneurs to work and live here on the prairie with techniques similar to what I highlighted in my post this morning on the video from Brookings inviting President Obama to visit—honest conversation about the good things here and the potential we have to make those things better:

We simply spoke to them. We offered an aspirational vision for this place and its people. We reflected to them the abundance of talent and space that surrounds them and the absolutely limitless possibility that awaits.

No martian oppression. No cheeky commercials. Just a clear, steadfast belief in the community, this state and our shared future. And it worked [Weber, 2015.05.04].

The silly things the Governor’s Office of Economic Development pays Lawrence & Schiller millions to say on behalf of South Dakota and the authentic conversations had daily by doers like Weber (and Scott Meyer… and nominate others in the comment section!) are as far apart as, well, South Dakota and Mars. Maybe GOED should get Lawrence & Schiller out of our way and let Weber and other creative types tell South Dakota’s real stories.


  1. JTF 2015-05-04

    i know many good people who either currently work at L&S or have in the past. But I am baffled by the firm’s negative “all press is good press” approach. I do not understand how a) a firm that relies on the South Dakota talent market could be this short sighted about their own interest in attracting talent to the South Dakota or b) why firms that are proud to do business in SD would hire a firm that has such a dim view of the state.

  2. rwb 2015-05-05

    There is probably enough arrogance over at L&S that they don’t even know how stupid their campaign really is.

  3. Les 2015-05-05

    “”enough arrogance over at L&S that they don’t even know how stuPid”””. That can surely be said about current governance in our state.
    When you have a no bid world where is the need to perform?

  4. larry kurtz 2015-05-05

    Nobody has proved that living in South Dakota is better than living on Mars.

  5. Rorschach 2015-05-05

    The ad is evidence that Larry the Shiller has given up on the notion of actually recruiting people to SD. Now they’re just dragging out ideas from the old reject bin because they have to do SOMETHING for their no-bid contract. Whoever came up with the message that “Hey, we might be the worst place in the world to live, but we’re better than another planet” would be fired anywhere else but … you guessed it.

    I get the impression that neither the Daugaard administration nor Larry the Shiller give a d*** about how they portray SD to the rest of the country. This whole deal is about shuffling public money to Larry the Shiller’s Republican pockets so some of it can be shuffled back into Republican campaign accounts.

  6. Rorschach 2015-05-05

    Is the creator of the Mars commercial the same person who thought up the “Don’t jerk and drive” idea?

  7. Les 2015-05-05

    I would think that legislator deserves some great public recognition for the jerk and drive idea Ror. Mercer did a colum but I don’t think he ID’d the individual.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-05

    Rorschach: yes, Lawrence & Schiller created both, on state contract.

  9. Jana 2015-05-05

    In other news. John Thune tweets that he is going on the Senate floor! Duh, isn’t that your job? Oh yeah, he is looking to balance the budget but doesn’t say how it will affect South Dakota.

    Of course this thread is about hiring talent in SF…Thune goes out of state for his new communications director…way to go John!

  10. Jana 2015-05-05

    Meant to type SD instead of SF…but the both are looking!

  11. Joan 2015-05-08

    Let’s give it a year and then see, in dollars/individual attracted to SD, how much this ad cost

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-08

    Joan, I’d love to see that kind of follow-up, not just web hits and metrics about the ad itself, but a real analysis of the results it produces. That study would have to include not only interviews with new residents to search for positive effects, but interviews with people in the out-state targeted markets who saw the ad but either ignored it or reacted negatively to it. I wonder: could we ever get accurate numbers not just on the people this ad might draw, but the people it might turn off, people who could say, “We were thinking about moving, but this ad helped us cross South Dakota off the list”?

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