Blog | 3 HUGE Reasons Why the South Dakota Mars Video is Genius!

Something We Thought About

Last week South Dakota launched a new ad campaign for the state, looking to attract new residents to the state’s expansive open lands and “abundant jobs.” The tagline? “A Place you can live.” Short. Concise. On message.

Oh, and by the way, the whole ad centers on the idea that living in the state is a better option than dying on Mars.

Record scratch.

If you haven’t experienced the ad yet, watch it below and see why the punchline of jokes throughout popular and social media has been South Dakota this week, and then keep reading to find out why the genius of the ad will have the last laugh…


Discovering the Genius

Peter Sagal of NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” first brought this spot to my attention during Sunday’s broadcast. At the end of his segment, he closed with the line, “to whomever convinced South Dakota to produce and run this ad, we salute you, and good luck finding a new job.”

I had a good laugh and then queued up the video on YouTube (after pulling safely in to my parking spot, of course) and watched.

I was not disappointed. It was as laughably absurd as promised.

But then again, don’t you think they knew that? Could you really believe that this creative group would sit down, pose the question “what does South Dakota have to offer?” And legitimately only be able to answer, “well at least we’re not Mars!” Or perhaps someone saw this video from Mars One and said, “Gosh golly! If people will move to Mars, surely we can get some idiots to move to South Dakota!”

Possible, but unlikely.

More likely in my mind? The state found a genius way to stand out from the crowd.

Here’s why.

1. Saying without saying

The hilariously serious voice over speaks the “message” of the ad, namely, “why live on Mars when South Dakota has hot air ballooning?” But what the message is really saying is that the state has a sense of humor. South Dakota has to know that messaging pointing to industry or urbanism or even natural landmarks would put them among the noise of other state campaigns.

Instead, they went off the deep end and caught the attention of young people like me with something so absurd that it demands my attention. I don’t remember New Mexico’s last ad, but I will never forget this one.

2. Keeping it simple

As a video professional, I could have created this spot in about two hours with an Internet connection and access to a semi-talented voice actor. The whole thing is images and graphics. No expensive videography, no cheesy actors exploring the beauty of the state.

Not considering strategy and media buys, I would have felt guilty charging more than $1k for this, and an intern with iMovie could have achieved the production quality displayed here.

This is another sign that South Dakota is poking a lean joke at itself. It’s intentionally (I’m hoping) bad. Intentionally low quality. Most importantly, it’s intentional.

3. No press is bad press

At some point the agency responsible will write a case study and be able to point to an incredible explosion of traffic for the state’s tourism and residential websites. The various uploads of this video to YouTube already have hundreds of thousands of views. Every major news outlet has picked up and shared the story. Its trending on Twitter.

In other words, this ad did what no other ad about South Dakota could have done: made the state relevant and created buzz.

So… Yeah, genius.

Personally, I’m hoping that this is the first in a series of absurdities by the state’s ad board. Eventually the real message will come across that the state offers real jobs and low cost of living to Americans who like open spaces.

Oh, and that guy or gal Peter sagel hopes is able to find a new job? My guess is that a promotion is more likely.


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