Public Service Announcement Manifesto

 

   We create Public Service Announcements, we sound the horns of change and spread words of sage advice through all channels of media. We are the impetus for action, the object of mockery and the harbinger of safety.

We may be the party poopers. We may be obnoxious. We may be telling you things you don’t want to hear. But you need to hear them, and thats what we aim to do.

   Our roots grew from the messages of safety and good will from the war battered cities of Britain and remained through the restoration of the world. From there our domain grew to raising awareness of VD and safeguarding moral values. Then on we sprouted messages on environmental safety, and Smokey the Bear kept our parks from burning to ashes. Now we cover a vast swath of issues from being a good samaritan, informing Americans on underground sex trafficking at the Super Bowl, drug use, and seat belt safety. We have the ability to cover it all, and it can be as broad or specific as you want it to be. We do not limit and we do not censor or hush. We are the whistle and we are handing it to you.

  You see we speak for no particular voice, because we are a method of action, a tool. Do we sometimes fall into sordid hands? Yes we do, but that is our nature. We are the megaphone sitting on a public bench, free to the public to inform others regardless of who picked it up and started to shout.

Beyond this we are also the voice of authority. We can come as messages from the government and large institutions. We are there to slap you on the wrist. We are there in the living room in the dark at night, waiting for you to come home. We are there to lecture and talk your ear off because as much as this is about public action, it is also about knowing what’s best for the public. Safety first, click it or ticket, just say no, not even once. It’s all the same–we are here to look after you.

Public service announcements are a means of spreading a message to the masses, and getting a cause heard, seen and delivered. The goal is to illuminate, inspire and bring forth social or political change. You must amplify the voices of those ignored or unheard. Since 1938 the messages have been spread over airwaves and through television screens and the intent has and will always be the same, to raise awareness. Whether it is through inducing fear, revulsion, laughs or tears you must make your audience understand and feel. We are dramatic, we are jarring, we are hilarious and we are groan inducing but we are here inducing some sort of response within our viewers and we stick with them.

 

 Here is how we look:

 

1. We lead you in with a compelling story, statistic or other information.

 

2. We hit you with a powerful hook, something like a tagline, punchline or jarring visual that will stick with you

 

3. We give you a cautionary tale or an ominous threat, to advise you on why it’s important that we are heard.

 

4. We state our mission and our goal and show us how you can help

 

5. We let you know who we are, and where you can get more information

6. And we do it all (ideally) in a minute or less.

The Future of Public Service Announcements

 The genre and style of public service announcements hasn’t changed considerably over time. The way they existed in the 30s and 40s is very different from the way they are now, however their intent has always been consistent, as they serve a very specific social purpose. Originally PSAs existed as extended short films with the purpose of bringing about social awareness of a cause. They were heavily focused on concerns with the war effort, and were almost a type of propaganda. There are also several different approaches in delivering PSAs, as many have played all around on the spectrum between comedy and tragedy, so as of recent there have been very few revolutionary concepts introduced into PSA production.

  Despite this there have been two relatively large changes in PSAs which have helped to influence their style. First the length has changed drastically from the 40s and 50s. Back then PSAs were more like short films which took up a portion of broadcasting airtime. Now they almost exclusively exist as commercials, with story lines confined to a 30 second to minute long time span. This has forced PSAs into having to deliver an entire story arc with an effective message in an incredibly short amount of time. Another development that has spurred within recent years is the use of sincerity and graphic depictions. The worst PSAs are those which come off as melodramatic, and many “serious” PSAs have ended up being this way. Good examples of melodramatic PSAs would be Brain on Heroin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PawmEoFy_2o). The message falls flat in these commercials and become humorous, which defeats the purpose of the advertisement. Recently the Montana Methamphetamine Project hired Darren Aronofsky to create a series of PSAs(The most powerful in my opinion are the ones titled Friends:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDUoXp4cB_c Mother: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Irvl4pLA9A0 and Desperate:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq6Vg8Hm5VA) These 30 second commercials are intense and genuinely dramatic, and are in my opinion some of the best PSAs created.

  I think that PSAs are still very relevant within popular culture, as they are often recreated, referenced and parodied in many different formats. They also are able to inform people of issues and concerns they might not be aware of, thus they still having a valid purpose. I am most interested in seeing PSAs with improved writing quality (like the Montana Meth Project) as they are jarring and well done pieces of short film. Humorous PSAs have already been well established and I think are a lot easier to pull off, which makes the possibility of good dramatic PSAs extremely appealing to me. PSAs are also developing a presence of the internet and some informal viral PSAs  that were created have been very effective. This one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-XHPHRlWZk) plays off of the make-up tutorial genre to deliver a powerful message about domestic violence. Videos like these are able to reach an entirely different audience, and are a great format for PSAs to develop.

  In terms of where PSAs can go from here, I think it would be interesting to see PSAs made for issues beyond what they are made for now. PSAs often take on obvious evils like drug use, unsafe driving practices and other miscellaneous hazards. However, I would like to see some PSAs informing viewers on structural violence or other greater aspects of our society which have birthed a plethora of problems. The format of the PSA has such a large potential for bringing about change, yet I don’t think those capabilities have quite been realized yet.

History of PSAs

  Public service announcements originated roughly around the start of the second world war. Their purpose was to disseminate information through television (and radio) in a fast and efficient manner. The first PSAs come from the United Kingdom through Public Relationship Films Ltd. in 1938. These short films focused primarily on general safety practice throughout daily life. Richard Massingham was the original original producer and actor in these films, and was eventually commissioned by the British government to create PSAs for the war effort. Massingham was the founder of Public Relationship Films, and was known for playing a hapless, dumb man unaware of certain social niceties.

Here is an example of a PRF video on sneezing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRmpJ_dORXA

Messingham’s films had a very humorous style, stemming from the optimism campaigns that the British government championed during World War II. Many of the videos made were on subjects of lifestyle, such as this one about tea preparation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnvYymrCn4g

Public service announcements had a similar start in the U.S. as they did in the U.K. and were produced through the Ad Council. Since PSA’s were heavily involved in war time practice, after World War II the format had to  quickly expand to other types of issues. These involved subjects on public health, environmental safety and other such things much like the ones today. PSAs initially resembled short films, but slowly grew shorter as the nature of T.V. programming developed and they became more suitable for filling advertisement slots

 Currently, several different organizations use PSA’s to deliver messages to the public, and a majority occur as television advertisements or internet commercials. PSAs are so prevalent that they are commonly made and parodied in unofficial settings. Due to their relatively simple format and purpose, they are easy to recreate.

Here are some examples of PSAs made by middle school students:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o89TQ0OxS8U

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0qYer6DZ9A

 

Public Service Announcements

PSA’s or Public Service Announcements are a type of video widely seen during television advertising. The format of the video originated from radio advertisements put out by the government during World War II. Today, the government is still responsible for many PSAs, but several other NGO’s and non-profit agencies release PSAs as well. The goal of a PSA is to relay some sort political or social message, and inform the viewer of something they may not be aware of. A PSAs most basic service is promoting awareness and change, however the method in which this is executed varies from video to video.

 The government agency Ad Council releases many PSA’s on the Television within the United States. These videos concern themselves with issues involving public health, social welfare and tolerance, and environmental concerns. Some famous figures from Ad Council campaigns include Smokey the Bear and the “Crying Indian”, which both have gained relevance within popular culture. Ad Council ads tend to be on the more serious side, playing off of the audiences compassion or guilt. As an example, Smokey the Bear pressures people into being more careful when camping in national park sites, and the Crying Indian was widely successful in using pathos to encourage people not to litter. PSAs also utilize the element of fear, such as those seen in the advertisements of Preventit.ca and the Montana Meth Project. These videos scare the viewer into following whatever message is being administered. The best PSAs are memorable, so that their messages stick to the viewer.

  There are several PSA’s which use humor to reach the viewer as well. The “That’s so gay” videos by AdCouncil and GLSEN or the NHSTA “Know-it-all” commercials are both good examples of humorous PSAs. Despite using any sort of serious delivery, the message remains memorable in the eyes of the viewer, and allows them to retain the information in an effective manner. However, even the funniest of PSAs imply an association to a darker more serious message.

Some defining characteristics of PSA’s are:

1. Ambiguous lead-in

2. Clear succinct story

3. Powerful hook

4. Cautionary tale or ominous threat

5. Clearly defined goal or purpose

6. Official affiliation

 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09XLGwiOmr4 child safety

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Suu84khNGY crying indian

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ7OxEKac4M smokey the bear

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noFCekWiUGE preventit.ca

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU_Rrb8F_o0 montana meth project

PSAs succeed when they dwell in extremes, whether it be the scariest, saddest, or funniest. If not, the message is delivered in a mediocre way and the idea won’t stick. There also has to be a threat behind the motivation to encourage the viewer to follow the message. Shown in some of the examples provided, PSAs manage to deliver intense stories in under 30 seconds, proving them to involve strong acting, good writing and a high quality execution. Without these details they can fall flat or become corny (which may in the end be all the better). A good rule of thumb is for PSAs would be: As long as it is memorable, it works.