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September 21st, 2011

The Do’s and Don’ts of Creating an Effective PSA



Yes, we love working with consumer brands like vitaminwater, Fazoli’s, and Great Lakes Brewing Company, where we’re creating art to serve capitalism, and basically just thinking of new ways to get more people to buy more stuff. But every now and then, we get the opportunity to create art to serve the greater good, where we get to use our super strategic-creative-digital powers to try and convince more teens to buckle up, and more people to become organ donors, and more moms to realize that their 4’7” 7-year-old still needs to be in a booster seat. This is the kind of work that more than just makes us proud. It makes our mother-in-laws proud. And trust us, that’s important.

So today, we thought we’d continue to try and give back to all you do-gooders out there, and share with you some of our do’s and don’ts for creating an impactful PSA. So now, your important messages, causes, and charities have a far greater chance of getting noticed, embraced, and acted upon by the public, rather than tragically ignored and tossed into a sea of invisible blah blah. (Oh, the horror.)

Rule #9 Do get a little emotional.

We have a little saying around the office that people remember one-third of what they read, one-half of what they hear, but 100% of what they feel. If you can glue your message with a simple, emotional human truth, you have a far greater chance of being remembered, and ultimately, selected. And nothing demonstrates that better than this brilliant PSA that doesn’t use fear tactics or excessively shocking crash scenes to make its simple, emotional point.

Rule #8 Just don’t overdo it with the emotion.

The legendary “Crying Indian” anti-litter spot launched on Earth Day in 1971. Yes, it won a ton of awards. And yes, some attribute it to starting the green movement. But did they really need to show one artificial, glycerin tear rolling down Chief Sad Guy’s cheek? Maybe we’ve all just become a little jaded over the past 40 years and lost our happy-go-lucky innocence. Which leads us to rule #7.

Rule #7 Don’t do jingles about Armageddon.

What better way to calm the fears of millions of American kids in the ’50s through the early ’80s than with a cute little animated turtle and a catchy little tune. Makes surviving a nuclear holocaust seem super easy. And FUN!

Rule #6 Do show, rather than tell.

It’s always more impactful to demonstrate to your audience rather than just tell them what to do, think, or feel. We thought we should practice what we preach, and demonstrate this point with an anti-smoking spot that tells you what to think versus one that shows you. Like a robot’s real worried about lung cancer. Come on, C-3PO. You’re better than that.

Rule #5 Don’t create a catch phrase that will be mocked by millions of teens.

Pee-wee Herman in the dark is never advised. If you go to YouTube you can see a lot more of these infamous gems. Along with hundreds of humorous spoofs and parodies most likely created by teens obviously not taking The Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles very seriously. Imagine that.

Rule #4 Do consider using humor. (Yes, we’re serious.)

When done right, humor can be one of the most effective ways to engage your audience and raise awareness around important issues. As demonstrated by the highly successful crash test dummies campaign, as well as the internationally acclaimed Cam Breast Exam.

Rule #3 Don’t get Mr. T to sing for your cause.

Apparently jokes about weight and appearance are acceptable in Mr. T’s world. But moms. No way. Off limits, foo!

Rule #2 Do think beyond the :30 TV spot.

Some of the most impactful, buzz-worthy PSAs aren’t TV spots—like an outdoor campaign in India that actually uses the billboards to demonstrate the crippling effects of polio. Or vending machines throughout South Africa that exaggerate the point of how easy it is to get a gun there. Or creative speed limit displays in Wisconsin to emphasize slower is better. And last but not least, a shameless plug for an event we’ve held at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport the past two years, where teams of 20 compete to see who can pull a 747 down the runway the fastest. Which this year, raised over $45K for Special Olympics Ohio.

Rule  #1 Do capture the truth, post it on YouTube, and wait for The View to call.

Creating an anti-bullying ad would not come close to the buzz generated by a real video of a 13-year-old in Philadelphia getting hung up on a metal fence by seven classmates. Truth is, PR just might be the most important weapon in your current communications arsenal. Your message needs authenticity, and we all know your budget needs help from unpaid media. And Barbara Walters.

Well, there you have it, folks. If nothing else, you now know how to effectively duck and cover, and how to treat your mother the way Mr. T. would treat her (wait, what?). Just remember, if you ever need help raising awareness around important issues, call us. Not Pee-wee Herman. As always, we’d be honored to help you do-gooders any way we can. Hopefully this blog post truly has been . . . one to grow on.