Do you remember the last time you saw or heard a public service announcement? Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve probably seen a few in your lifetime. These messages have a long history, but as times have changed, so have PSAs. Some PSA ads have transcended time and still maintain their popularity. Now, PSA ads must compete with thousands of other messages broadcasted over many different forms of media channels, so creating awareness about a cause or an issue can become quite a challenge. That’s why these ads must spark the right conversations and generate enough buzz.
PSAs and Commercials
You’re likely familiar with both but might not know what makes them distinct. Public service announcements are not paid advertising, which is perhaps the most significant difference between them and commercials. A PSA is a message in the publics’ interest that serves to raise awareness or change the public’s attitudes towards a social issue.
On the other hand, a commercial is a paid advertisement pushed out by the media to promote a product or service. Now that we’ve covered the differences between the two, let’s take a look at how PSA ads have evolved over the years.
History of PSA Ads
Some early examples of public service announcements can be traced back to the American Civil War. During this time, the government attempted to raise money for the war efforts through advertisements published in newspapers. This was not only an excellent example of how PSAs work, but it also became an early example of the power of advertising in general.
War efforts tend to spark the creation of public service announcements that go down in history. The best example of this is the famous Uncle Sam PSA. The poster was a recruitment effort by the U.S government. It depicted Uncle Sam, the visual personification of the United States, pointing at the viewer with the words: “I want YOU for the U.S. Army.”
The Second World War introduced another set of PSAs that would have a lasting impact throughout the years. One of the most well-known examples is Rosie the Riveter. It was first seen in 1942, and much in the spirit of Uncle Sam, it featured a strong character that motivated the women working at war-supply factories. Rosie the Riveter continues to be a symbol of female empowerment and is often seen depicted on posters. The British government also produced their share of motivational PSA ads during this time, like the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. This PSA found new popularity a few years ago when many parodies and tributes began spreading around on the internet.
PSA Ads Jump to the Screen
With the introduction of affordable TV sets, advertising evolved. Illustrations and powerful wording were simply not enough for a population that was embracing new forms of media. The messages contained in these announcements also changed. Now they focused on everyday situations and health habits. These ads encouraged people to visit the dentist or read the label on their products to avoid accidents.
By the end of the decade, PSA ads would also begin to target smoking. The 1960s marked the start of these campaigns. A great example is Johnny Smoke; this commercial drew upon Western movies’ popularity to appeal to a broader audience. The ad portrayed a cigarette as a dangerous bandit that goes around murdering cowboys.
With rising drug abuse epidemics in the 1980s, PSA ads shifted their focus to this growing problem. These PSAs were also primarily influenced by the start of the war on drugs during the Reagan presidency. During this time, some of the most popular ads include the notorious “This Is Your Brain on Drugs,” that featured the image of a fried egg and the campaign launched by the federal government: “Just Say No.”
In the 1990s, NBC would launch a series of PSA ads called “The More You Know.” The campaign strategy was for different celebrities to deliver 30-second messages about public interest issues and encourage families to start honest conversations about them. These ranged from domestic abuse to obesity. While Hollywood celebrities were primarily featured, some presidents also appeared in the ads.
New PSA ads have found different ways to convey their messages to spectators with shorter attention spans, and video platforms give them the option to skip ads. This led PSAs to adopt a cinematographic look, paired with very creative storytelling. A great example of this comes from the United Kingdom with the campaign “Children See, Children Do.”
The evolution of PSA ads is genuinely remarkable. From promoting war efforts with larger-than-life characters to tackling everyday issues with captivating storytelling. It’s important to note the power PSA ads had on the public as they reflect humanity’s history. Whether a public service announcement or commercial, you want to make sure you have strong advertising content to get the most potential for a return on your investment. If you are looking for more options in this area, be sure to partner with a skilled banding, advertising, and marketing agency, like Glint Advertising. By taking a look at your current goals, we can help you create the right messages and find the best avenues for your advertising content.