A lot of thought and creativity go into public service announcement (PSA) development. An effective PSA grabs and holds your attention, perhaps in a startling way. It resonates and stays with you after you’ve seen it, and hopefully doesn’t come across as cliché. It invokes a sense of urgency and gives a clear and simple message and, if applicable, a call to action.


When in doubt – cat videos!

Often, the most successful messages take two things that are part of our everyday lives and juxtapose them to create an “A-ha” or “Duh, of course!” effect. A great example of that is this anti-smoking PSA from The Truth Initiative, which positions smoking as the cause of the end of cat videos. With this PSA, The Truth Initiative is cleverly using popular culture to deliver their message in a roundabout way. I don’t know about you, but I never really thought about the effects smoking could have on the animals living in the house, and of course, it makes perfect sense. Animals, especially our pets, tug at our hearts, and this message plays to that.


…or honeybees

General Mills recently launched a campaign in Canada to raise awareness about the declining honeybee population. In addition to this powerful video, the company removed the iconic bee character from boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, leaving a blank white space in his place. The campaign directs viewers to its website, where they can request a wildflower seed packet and find instruction on how to plant a wildflower garden. What a great way to raise awareness about a world problem and give people an opportunity to help in a meaningful way that can truly make a difference.


The value of shock value

Often, really good PSAs are distressing, or even jarring to the viewer. This one about the importance of driving safely made me feel sick to my stomach the first time I saw it. A message  from Honda takes a different, clever approach in an effort to resonate with a younger driving audience. Close to Home highlights the danger of phone use while driving, but instead of the more common message about texting while driving, it demonstrates how social media and similar distractions can have just as devastating consequences. While watching Close to Home, I felt like I was witnessing everyday conversations and interactions, which made it very easy to put myself in the place of the people in the video. It’s longer than the average PSA, which adds to the tension and effectiveness of the piece.


More than one way to make a point

PSAs that use humor can also be effective, like this “wear your seatbelt” reminder. Print pieces can be powerful, too. Strong imagery, succinct, pointed copy, and clever placement can all help drive home a powerful message, like this one from Feed South Africa.

Feed South Africa


Which PSAs really stuck with you after you saw them? Anything you would add to our list of “musts” for a powerful PSA? Speak up in the comments!

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