Public service announcements, or PSAs, are flashy and upfront messages that educate us on the consequences of mistakes we could potentially make. But how often do we actually heed these warnings? The answer: a lot more than you might expect.
Nobody watches PSAs for their own pleasure. Instead, PSAs come to us on platforms where we find entertainment, like YouTube or Instagram. For example, the iconic Youtube music video, ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ has over 171 million views, and let’s be honest, at least one or two of those views are our own. This catchy song lists exactly what you might expect: dumb ways to die. Believe it or not, this is a PSA. Created by Metro Trains Melbourne, the objective is to bring train safety awareness after many accidental deaths. You might not have gotten much out of this video, but you can talk to the other 127 million people that stated that they will be more conscious around trains. In 2013, the number of deaths by train in Australia fell 21%, but it remains unclear as to whether the drop was due to the campaign or was a pure coincidence. Still, any positive impact is a win for the campaign.
Another example of a common PSA is the new vaping PSA created by “The Real Cost”, which is a campaign started by the Food & Drug Administration. This campaign educates youth about e-cigarettes, smoking, and the effects of them through online ads. This PSA takes a more cinematic approach using metaphors to depict the effects and dangers of vaping. The most recent 15-30 second video contrasts the vaping trend as an epidemic, showing a virus-like bacteria spreading in young high school students like us. The gruesome visuals combined with horrifying facts will definitely make you think twice about smoking and make your skin crawl. I got to see the reaction of a fellow classmate watching the video, and let’s just say it wasn’t very transformative. Rather than education, they found it as entertainment—a joke. Yet, it is not right to say that making the PSA was in vain. When bringing up the topic of PSAs, I found that most people first associate it with this anti-vaping video. At least it accomplishes the goal of awareness. The fact that people are able to recognize the video gives us hope that if it isn’t effective now, maybe later people will look back to it and can learn.
You have to give a lot of credit to the creators of these PSAs who make them innovative and interesting. They are able to make them in a way that is able to connect with 21st Century adolescence. The components of these public service announcements are not just about the facts, but whether they can appeal to their targeted audience. The ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ video does not just say, “beware of trains,” but it takes violent humor and puts it in front of a catchy tune that kids still memorize to this day. The new vaping PSA, in my eyes, is equivalent to a movie trailer that keeps people on edge. These factors are what make the PSAs nowadays an extensive learning tool that brings awareness.
So, are PSAs effective? I believe that the way PSAs are created today, compared to the first PSAs, allows us to be influenced in a way that creates progress towards a future where dangers can be prevented. The small impacts of these successful campaigns will create a bigger effect on the kids of tomorrow because the minor impacts of these campaigns are a major win. The real question should be not if PSAs are effective, but the ways in which they really do impact us.
Graphic: Nicole Kye