10 PSAs That Actually Get Your Attention
If Sarah McLachlan ever shows up on cable, then you know it’s time to mute the TV. Sarah has a lovely voice, but her public service announcements for animal cruelty are so dramatic and sorrowful that even she changes the channel when they come on.
Of course, it’s hard to create a campaign that drives home an important point while also being entertaining. But it can be done. PSAs don’t have to be serious, and they don’t have to just rely on fear. In fact, getting viewers to notice a good cause may actually work best with a lighter touch. Here are 10 examples of PSAs that can stand on their own as great pieces of content marketing.
1. If You Don’t Tell Them, Then Who Will: On Condoms
It’s hard to talk about sex—no pun intended. That’s why sexual education videos that are informative, and which people will actually watch, are so important. For every Mean Girls-style teacher who insists that if you have sex “you will get pregnant—and die,” there should be a video like “On Condoms.”
“On Condoms,” created by WomanCare Global and Funny or Die, details the risks of ill-fitting prophylactics. Plus, since we’re talking genitalia with comedians, there is bound to be an abundance of jokes about nether regions. Jessica Biel, Joy Bryant, and Whitney Cummings certainly don’t disappoint.
PSA Points for: The idea that someone can cough up a condom during sex. (You can’t. Don’t try this at home.)
Ever wanted to see Danny Trejo in a dog outfit? If so, I won’t ask you why; that’s your business. But if you have, your dream is about to come true. #Rufflife shows Trejo, wearing a fuzzy canine suit, fighting to survive in a shelter. While the ad is hilarious, it also draws a smart parallel between being in the pound and life in prison, which humanizes animals and makes their suffering that much more relatable to viewers.
At the end of the spot, the PSA reveals that 3 million unwanted cats and dogs will die in shelters each year. If that doesn’t make you want to spay and neuter your pets, I don’t know what will.
PSA Points for: The Canine Crips and the Bloodhound Bloods.
After watching this ad, the title of which translates to “In the Name of Breasts,” you’ll know more slang for lady lumps in French than you do in English. Sponsored by the French coffee company Carte Noire, this is a fun, poppy PSA that shows that every woman should get screened for breast cancer—no matter what she calls “the girls.”
Remember: If detected in time, 90 percent of breast cancer can be cured.
PSA Points for: Frying eggs on the twins. No further explanation needed.
4. Bristol Ageing Better
According to this PSA, 3.9 million older people in England say that television is their main form of company—as statistics go, that’s heart-wrenching. So how can you address that issue in a way that’s fun to watch? The answer: by animating stories using adorable animals in place of the elderly.
It’s a universal truth that animals make everything more palatable—even this line: “When you’re depressed, isolated, and down, you can’t see a future.” Thankfully, this ad is reaching out to those same people, and telling them that they have a lot to look forward to.
PSA Points for: A chicken flying off a treadmill.
5. Pizza Farm
Nick Offerman is a man who emanates glorious rays of Americana. So if he’s telling us that there’s a problem with our country, we should probably listen.
“Pizza Farm” parodies the fact that the U.S. government is supposedly cracking down on subpar school lunches. Many kids are still fed trays of junk. Look no further than when the USDA classified pizza sauce as a vegetable. Of course, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe pizza is a vegetable. Maybe the dried ketchup under the cap is, too.
In this PSA, Offerman shows viewers his beautiful, all-natural farm. He grows pizza on vines, taquitos on trees, and sloppy Joes in the dirt. Of course, this is all a joke, as the spot’s tagline explains: “Our kids’ health shouldn’t be a laughing matter.”
While I won’t laugh at malnourished kids, I will laugh at someone stapling fish fingers to a tree.
PSA Points for: “French fries are practically salads, which is why I like mine with ranch.” Can’t argue with that logic.
6. Love Has No Labels
The most innovative campaigns make people wonder how anybody could have possibly pulled them off. That’s exactly what Chris Northam, one of the creatives from R/GA behind this live PSA, must have thought when he put up a huge, ersatz X-ray display in Santa Monica this past Valentine’s Day.
The demonstration shows different sets of skeletons hugging and kissing each other. When the bone’s owners stepped out from behind the screen, it was revealed that the pairs were gay, biracial, elderly, or differently abled. The video has made a widespread impact, netting over 54 million views on Youtube.
“An important subtext to all of this was for people to recognize their own prejudices,” said Nick Law, global chief creative officer at R/GA, in an interview with Adweek. “It’s more than a metaphor; it’s actually a bit of a heightened demonstration.”
PSA Points for: The feels. All of them.
7. Don’t Talk During the Movie
Appealing to nostalgia is a great way to get consumers engaged. Playing on consumer affection is also an effective method of getting people to shut up during a movie—at least that’s what Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights thinks.
More than anything, this PSA for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema begs the question: In the iPhone age, can anyone give an uninterrupted, inspirational pep talk anymore? Come on, guys, at least put your phone away for the movie.
PSA Points for: “You ruin Coach’s speech. We punt you out of the theater.” Hear, hear.
8. What If Bears Killed One In Five People?
I’m extremely impressed that someone tasked with making a PSA about sexual assault not only made it impactful but also funny enough to share. Somehow, a genius at College Humor figured it out.
The general premise of the spot is obvious from the title. Put simply, you wouldn’t let a bear kill one in five of your friends—so why would you remain silent about the fact that one in five women will be sexually assaulted by the time she finishes college?
For those who were wondering, the chances of being killed by a bear is around one in 2.1 million—and that’s if you’re already in Yellowstone National Park. Worry about that later. Let’s deal with sexual assault first.
PSA Points for: “You know the old saying. Bears will be bears.”
9. Tea Consent
Figuring out the definition of consent can be complicated. Making someone a cup of tea isn’t. So let’s compare the two! Leave it to the Brits to think of such an appropriate analogy. After all, it’s pretty simple: Don’t force people to have tea if they don’t want to.
Warning: this video drops a few f-bombs. The clean version can be found here.
PSA Points for: Stick figures laying it down for the greater good.
10. PPD PSA
What happens when you have the smallest budget ever, but still want to create a funny video? You use an old Saved by the Bell PSA about drugs and superimpose the head of the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department on somebody else’s body.
Come on, the Internet loves nostalgia and bad Photoshop. How could this go wrong? (And no, it doesn’t.)
PSA Points for: Horrendous ’90s clothes and a truly terrible (and intentional) voice over.
If you’re ever brainstorming ideas for a PSA, remember to look beyond the usual scare tactics. When was the last time you made it all the way through a smoking PSA without changing the channel or checking your phone? Instead, make humor and nostalgia your first bet. While you might never top a Saved by the Bell remake, you can get damn close.