The NSW Government Is Trying To Make A Sloth Go Viral To Stop Kids Smoking Weed


The strange campaign takes a markedly different approach to the war on drugs than the Federal government’s anti-Ice advertisements, writes Max Chalmers.

Mike Baird, NSW’s insufferably popular Premier, has had a pretty successful year by any measure. In March Baird saw off Labor’s Luke Foley, cruising to victory in what will surely go down as one of the country’s dullest electoral battles in history. Since then no one has heard too much from Foley, while Baird has been able to execute his agenda virtually unchallenged, most recently pushing the vexed issue of council amalgamations without facing anything much stronger than mild scepticism from the public.

Having managed to avoid the wrath of the ICAC, and gently euthanised Labor’s ambitions to return to government, Baird’s team have now turned to a challenge that has dogged governments around the world. They’re having a stab at the war on drugs.

And that’s why the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet has paid an external advertising company – though they have declined to say how much – to help make a sloth go viral.

Stoner Sloth Ad 2If you think that sounds strange, wait till you see the actual campaign.

In one clip a group of friends are chilling at a party, as young people are no doubt wont to do. Everyone, it seems, is having a good time, until the camera pans to the left revealing ‘Dave’, a human-sized sloth in a button-up shirt unable to express anything other than a highly unpleasant groan. Marijuana has struck. Unimpressed, the two young women involved in the conversation walk away.

Hosted on a standalone website and a number of social media channels, the government has launched a series of videos, gifs, and images to convince teenagers to put down the bong. Under the tagline “you’re worse on weed”, they aim to create public awareness, “encourage positive behaviours before bad habits start, and motivate discontinued use before teenagers become highly dependent”, according to a statement issued to New Matilda by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

It’s a far-cry from the Federal government’s brutal anti-Ice campaign which, as a number of media outlets pointed out when it was launched earlier this year, includes a lazy reshooting of a virtually identical ad first screened in 2007.

“The campaign is designed to appeal to, and be ‘shareable’ among, teenagers, who are some of the most vulnerable to cannabis use,” the Department of Premier and Cabinet statement continues. “We know that younger audiences respond more to campaigns highlighting the short-term consequences of their actions.”

While drug and alcohol policy experts New Matilda reached out to for comment were today unavailable, the campaign has certainly managed to grab attention with the videos already attracting hundreds of thousands of views. That’s not to say those engaging with the material were completely sold, with many questioning whether the campaign was authentic or not. Others were perplexed by the involvement of the state government.

Stoner Sloth Comments

The spokesperson for the Department of Premier and Cabinet said there was no plan to run the campaign on television, and that it had been informed by research carried out at the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.