". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Kristi Noem’s Bizarre Celebrity Endorsements: Are We All Influencers Now?

March 18, 2024

When it comes to consumer culture, politicians have a peculiar history.

Through the years, we’ve been given an occasional glimpse into some of our public officials’ favorite haunts. President Ronald Reagan, for example, once stopped at McDonald’s during his presidency, and President Bill Clinton stopped there enough times that “Saturday Night Live” famously parodied his favorite fast-food. President Barack Obama frequented Five Guys and Ben’s Chili Bowl. Donald Trump continued that presidential tradition, doubling down on the Golden Arches, while adding a “Diet Coke” button in the Oval Office.

While each of these elected officials seemingly enjoyed their mingling with the brands of the common people, they stopped short of official endorsement. Elected office, it seemed, was considered off limits for the peddling of product.

But that view might be changing. The sitting Republican governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, has made some bizarre posts on her non-government social media accounts, serving effectively as a celebrity endorsement for consumer products.

The first — and arguably the strangest — was a nearly five-minute video infomercial for a Texas dentist posted on March 11. Noem wrote, “I love my new family at Smile Texas! The video says it all, and I am so grateful for their help fixing my smile for me.” In the video, Noem introduces herself as the governor of South Dakota and then proceeds to tell the in-depth story of how she hurt her teeth in a biking accident and how the fine folks at Smile Texas fixed them for her. The only thing missing was a call to use the code NOEM for a 10% off your first tooth fixing.

The comments posted to the video on X quickly took Noem to task. “Wait I’m confused did the Governor of South Dakota just film an infomercial for the dentist that did her veneers?” wrote one user. Another quipped, “Kristi Noem: the dental care in the state I run is so … poor that I did a brand deal for one in Texas.” Social media users weren’t alone. A South Dakota Democratic legislator called for an official inquiry into the matter, asking if the governor had used state funds. Travelers United, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against Noem alleging that she failed to disclose she had a financial relationship with the company.

But the criticism clearly hasn’t deterred Noem. Perhaps seeing that she should at least support businesses from her own state, Noem on March 14 posted a less-polished video endorsing a South Dakota coffee shop. “This coffee shop is amazing. You have to come in. Bryon and I come in all the time. You will enjoy it. They love America. … Come visit ‘em. Common Grounds in Spearfish, South Dakota.”

Without the context of the first ad, the coffee shop video would be seemingly innocuous. But as infomercials have always told us, that’s not all! Later that same day, Noem posted yet another South Dakota business endorsement. Noem tweeted, “Fit My Feet does amazing work to make custom insoles. Just wait… I’m gonna be so fast!” A video attached to the post shows Noem holding a pair of shoe inserts, telling the camera, “These guys are amazing. They have totally built me inserts for running and separate ones for my cowboy boots. I’m gonna be perfect. I’m gonna be like bionic woman now.”

Governor Noem is no stranger to strange ad campaigns. In 2019, her administration launched an initiative to bring awareness to the state’s methamphetamine problem with the slogan, “Meth. We’re On It.” The ad actually says, “Meth is not someone else’s problem. It’s everyone in South Dakota’s problem. And we need everyone to get on it.” Well, somebody was certainly on something. Although the effort was widely mocked, the video for the campaign is still up on YouTube on the South Dakota Behavioral Health channel, with comments wisely turned off.

But these more recent ads — cast in the vein of a social media influencer — involve Noem herself as a pitchwoman, and it’s not a good look. The chief executive of a state is hawking dentists, coffee shops, and shoe inserts. Even if the endorsements are determined to be legal, they’re certainly a conflict of interest for a state official. How many similar businesses missed out on Noem’s name, image, and likeness deal?

But awkward advertising isn’t the only thing with which Noem has an uncomfortable history. Deep ties to corporate interests brought a cloud of questions surrounding her opposition to efforts by conservatives to protect both women’s sports and kids from mutilating surgeries. Perhaps, as Noem draws increasing national attention as a potential 2024 running mate for Trump, these recent advertising gigs are an attempt to assume the role of influencer over business interests instead of the one who is so often influenced by them.

If the goal is to increase her public profile, it’s a bizarre way to do it. Is this a sign that influencer culture has reached a saturation point? If so, what’s next? Will local congressional townhall meetings be transformed into Tupperware parties, where each constituent is encouraged to buy at least the cheapest item on the list? Kristi Noem now has great teeth (thanks to Texas Smile!), and she wants us to know about it, but Americans need more to chew on from elected leaders than acting as a peddler of wares for consumer products.

Jared Bridges is editor-in-chief of The Washington Stand.