HELENA – A group renowned for an anti-meth message that uses shock value to grab the attention of teens pulled one of its new advertisements Tuesday after complaints the image of a girl prostituting herself for drugs was too explicit.
The billboard for the Montana Meth Project debuted a few weeks ago and depicted a girl lying face down on the ground underneath an older man, with the caption “15 bucks for sex isn’t normal. But on meth it is.”
The ad sparked complaints from the conservative group Montana Family Foundation, which encouraged members this week to contact the Montana Meth Project and ask them to remove the ad.
“It’s easy to explain to your elementary school child that they shouldn’t do meth because it ruins your teeth, but when you have an ad like this that is patently sexual in nature, it’s a lot harder,” said Jeff Laszloffy, a former legislator and president of the Montana Family Foundation.
Laszloffy said he supports the work of the Montana Meth Project, but felt this ad went too far.
On Tuesday, the Montana Meth Project said they would replace the billboard.
“They expressed concern about that one ad. We listened to them,” said Peg Shea, Montana Meth Project’s executive director. “We made a decision to take that one ad down.”
The Montana Meth Project was launched in 2005 by software mogul and part-time Montana resident Tom Siebel. From the beginning, there were concerns among some that the advertisements were too provocative.
Shea said the group has been sensitive to those concerns and has taken action in the past, including a decision to air TV ads after 7 p.m. The decision was made after parents complained they did not want their children watching the ads without supervision.
Shea said the complaints have largely faded as the project has worked to reduce meth use. Montana officials, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer, have credited the group with helping to reduce meth use among the state’s teens.
Schweitzer’s spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said the administration agreed that pulling the ad was the right decision.
“This particular ad crossed the line from being effective and hard-hitting to being offensive,” Elliott said.
The success of the Montana Meth Project has spawned similar efforts in other states. The prostitution billboard had not yet been part of advertising campaigns in those states.
Shea declined to say whether she thought the billboard went too far. She said the campaign will always be looking for creative ways to catch the attention of teenagers, while balancing any criticism that may arise.
“We’ll take it one situation at a time, like we have done to date,” Shea said.
The Montana Meth Project is slated to get state money for the first time sometime this year as part of an enormously popular appropriation approved by the Legislature last year. The project is also trying to raise more money from private donors.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.