Public service announcements serve a very specific purpose: to inform the public and curb dangerous behavior. There has been a lot of controversy over the years, as organizations have been accused of using scare tactics to try and control the viewers.
But the intent usually comes from the right place, and so they continue to be used on television, billboards, magazines and even on the radio.
Do They Work?
There has been a question of whether or not extreme images and messages are truly effective in stopping behavior. Research is mixed on the issue. One one hand, a study done by the 2008 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) showed that media campaigns aimed at stopping drug use in youth had made a viewable impact of 42% of those teens who viewed them.
But other studies have shown just as clearly that PSA’s are unlikely to stop drug users from continuing, due to the factors of willpower versus addiction. There is also a risk of causing offense rather than providing a genuine platform for change (according to eCig.org, provider of Green Smoke Coupons). An example of this was the UK safe driving commercial that showed a little girl dying after being struck by a car.
Thankfully, there at least seems to be a benefit of using PSA’s to prevent behaviors, and to inform of dangers the public may not fully appreciate. Here is a collection of anti-smoking campaigns that use children to press the message of secondhand smoke and children mimicking parental behavior.
1. Children In Heaven
“Smoking kills” is still one of the most used PSA slogans in the world. In this PSA, they manage to convey that with both subtlety and punch. It shows a little girl staring at you from the picture. Around her head is a halo made of smoke, and below the message that secondhand smoke will help your child “get to heaven quicker”.
2. Cute Canadian PSA
Most people know not to smoke when pregnant, because of lung complications and possible problems with the birth weight, among other health factors. But for those who aren’t aware – or don’t know how serious the issue is – here is a Canadian commercial where an adorable little boy reminds us. His mother is pregnant, he says, and he is worried that she will smoke around his sibling like she smoked around him. Sweet, effective and without the disturbing imagery.
3. Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation
This UK based organization is a non-profit dedicated to improving lung health through spreading tobacco awareness. In these ads, they give the alarming statistic that 17,000 children in Britain are hospitalized due to secondhand smoke every year. The pictures show incredibly young kids with an oversized adult arm holding a lit cigarette. They are shocking images, and very well made.
If you were looking for something potentially upsetting in your PSA, this would be it. It shows a crying little boy with smoke surrounding his head in a way that is similar to a plastic bag over his head. In fact, at first glance that is exactly what it appears to be, as though someone were trying to smother or suffocate him. The message below is “Smoking isn’t just suicide, it is murder.” An extreme statement, to be sure.
5. 15,000 Cigarettes
The Peruvian League Against Cancer created this ad campaign in an attempt to show the dangers to a smoker’s family, and that it is ultimately others who pat the price of their tobacco use. They gathered together an incredible 15,000 used cigarette butts that are reaching towards a cowering little girl. The final result was a little cheesy, but the work they put into the ad is obvious, and the concept was really good.
6. Like Father, Like Son
This is a classic anti-smoking ad that was originally released in the US back in 1967. What is funny about it is that the first thing I thought was that it looked more like a safe-driving ad, given the little boy sitting in the front seat of a convertible with no seat belt. It’s like two PSA’s for the price of once, isn’t it?
You may have your own opinion on whether or not the effectiveness of public service announcements outweigh the occasional emotional exploitation used in making them. But whether you like it or not, they are here to stay.