Mascots and marijuana don’t always mix quite the way they’re intended. The state government of New South Wales in Australia learned that the hard way this week as the unveiling of their latest anti-marijuana ad campaign was consumed in a sea of ridicule, largely due to their choice of mascot. A series of commercials introduced us to Stoner Sloth, a lethargic lumbering oafish mammal drawing parallels to exaggerated “stoner” stereotypes. The campaign was aimed at filling teens with revulsion at the thought of becoming a pothead in a veritable walking coma. Instead, the ads’ target audience found itself enchanted by the oddly sympathetic Stoner Sloth.
The Stoner Sloth Campaign
The anti-marijuana mascot angrily dubbed Stoner Sloth by frustrated friends and family members is not a static character but rather a shuffling entity. One commercial depicts the Stoner Sloth as “Delilah”, a bow-bedecked sloth in a school uniform struggling unsuccessfully through an exam, much to the chagrin of her classmates. We next see Stoner Sloth as “Jason”, a sloth too stoned to figure out how to pass the salt to his mother at the dinner table (a fact that infuriates rather than amuses his sister). The final incarnation of the Stoner Sloth is “Dave”, a party-going sloth that blows his friend’s chances with a couple of beer-swilling ladies. Each of these anti-marijuana commercials ends with a sneered judgment by one of Stoner Sloth’s peers or family members as they practically spit the words “Stoner Sloth”. All of this is set to depressing acoustic music as the unfortunate creature moans unhappily.
Australia has a way with attention-grabbing warnings about health and public safety. Cigarette packs are emblazoned with photos of cancerous lungs and roadsides are peppered with billboards accompanied by the slogan “If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot” with the pun certainly intended. By comparison, an anti-marijuana mascot like the Stoner Sloth is pretty tame. But even cutting through the attention-grabbing surrealism, the campaign was doomed from the outset.
Why Stoner Sloth Fails as an Anti-Marijuana Mascot
This ad campaign monumentally fails on several levels but the most immediately obvious is the impossible task of sympathizing with the Stoner Sloth’s jerk friends and family members. What teenager is going to choose the uniformed teacher’s pet or the uptight sister over the cute cuddly teddy-bear-looking thing? Possibly the kind that wasn’t all that interested in smoking marijuana in the first place. The third commercial confronts us with the insane double standard of teens drinking what we can only assume is beer while handing us the high-and-mighty proclamation “You’re Worse on Weed.” Granted the legal drinking age in Australia is 18-years-old but is the government of New South Wales actually targeting teenagers of 18 years or older with its anti-marijuana campaigns?
A Little Backtracking from the NCPI
Perhaps the most telling sign that the Stoner Sloth campaign fell short of its intended usage comes with statements from the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) who had initially backed the misguided campaign. In an official statement, the NCPIC clarified, “While we wish the NSW government luck in future cannabis campaigns, the current stoner sloth campaign doesn’t reflect NCPIC views on how cannabis harms campaigns should be approached, as was implied by the media.”
While the New South Wales government succeeded in making a viral ad campaign, they may have also created 2015’s most popular marijuana mascot (we all knew that honor wasn’t going to Buddie). Inevitably, the Stoner Sloth ads use no facts or information but rather exploit a stereotype as anti-marijuana propaganda to an audience too intelligent and informed to buy it. The punishment is already taking form in biting tweets, memes, and eventually, the co-opting of the Stoner Sloth as a pro-marijuana symbol.