This PSA is Brought to You by Oxford

April 28, 2016

Public Service Announcement commercials are nothing new, but with everyone jumping on the PSA bandwagon this past month with a noteworthy spot released seemingly every other day, it’s clear they’re evolving. While Smokey the Bear and Mr. T pointed their fingers and told us what to do in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the trend of contemporary PSAs isn’t to say something, but to make us see, hear and feel the impact of our actions, driving us to make a change on our own.

Here are a select five examples from April highlighting this trend:

1. With contemporary issues like texting and driving, it’s easy to rely on a (brand-new) cliché to scare people, i.e., showing an accident happen from inside the car of a distracted driver. Brands may switch up the genders or ages of those in the car, but unfortunately, too many brands have relied on this tactic and has turned what should be a very violent, scary and shocking situation to an expected outcome by the viewer, lessening the impact. Honda took this cliché and brought back the element of surprise for a younger demographic of drivers with their anti-driving and texting ad by replacing the people with … “people.”

The tone, spelling and use of emojis in the ad speak to a first-time-driver audience who might not yet understand the consequences of their actions behind the wheel. The use of timestamps is an effective, subtle way to show that in the span of one minute, everything can change.

2. While the previous ad used new tech to deliver its message, the French road safety organization Association Victimes et Citoyens went old school to drive their message of road safety home.

As with many other contemporary PSAs, this one is giving new life to a tired cliché, this time relying on the “like a broken record” idiom – no matter how many times, “Don’t drink and drive” is said, there are still thousands of people every year (in the United States link: getting in their cars drunk and causing fatal accidents. Instead, we get a chance to hear the warning signs, the decision to drive and the resulting accident and death.

3. Using scare tactics involving children can be seen as exploitative in commercials, especially in PSAs. However, when done right, they can often be the most effective and emotional ads out there. St. John Ambulance, the first-aid teaching and awareness organization, definitely did it right with this horrifying scenario, touting the important advantages of knowing first aid in a dire situation (warning: hard to watch).

The emotional impact and extremes of the situation work well for the message about a subject not often on people’s minds.

4. The trend for female-centric commercials lately is to have very empowering messages, especially when it comes to body image, and this breast cancer ad from the I Touch Myself Project is no exception (slightly nsfw).

The ad plays out dramatically, giving weight to the issue of breast cancer and the need to regularly have self-exams, utilizing a song that proclaims female sexuality and gives it new meaning. Again, we are hearing the message and at the end, seeing the impact of its importance.

5. And ending on another “touching” message, not every PSA has to be all doom and gloom to communicate an important message, especially when it comes to sensitive topics as demonstrated by the organization Testicular Cancer Canada (slightly nsfw).

Going in the opposite direction of the previous ad directed at females, by approaching the topic of testicular cancer from an exaggerated, humorous and shocking angle, the stigma and awkwardness surrounding self-exams is eased and a funny, but no less important, message is made memorable.

Overall, this new crop of PSAs isn’t preachy as it is so easy for these kinds of ads to become and lose their impact. Instead, they speak to an audience that they acknowledge needs to be shown, not told, how they should conduct their lives. We’ll have to see if these April PSA showers bring more awareness and positive May flowers … or if we need to keep a look-out for Rachel Leigh Cook to show up with her frying pan for a refresher.