Updated: Jun 23, 2021
Have you ever had an emotional response to a commercial? Shed a tear, felt the hair rise on your arms, watched on in alarm and slight horror, or laughed out loud? Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are forms of advertising that are effective ways to create social change and raise awareness about issues happening in our world today. Why are they so effective? Because they illicit a strong emotional reaction, encourage change in our day-to-day lives and reform our opinions based on the insight we gain by watching them. In honor of over 80 years of PSAs (the first moving picture PSA in the U.S. was just before the start of World War II!) we have gathered a list of our Top 10 PSAs in the last 10 years.
Simple but effective, this commercial by MY Save Food beautifully and meticulously shows the process of three meals being made. After only a few bites, each meal is thrown into the trash. We like how the beautiful preparing of the meal draws us in and the shock factor of watching it all be thrown away to highlight the massive amount of food waste in our world.
Made by STOMP Out Bullying, this PSA features a diverse lineup of young adults who demand to be seen for who they are and not their religion, skin color or gender. This PSA encourages the audience to share the message by using their hashtag #SeeMe, and we love the use of social media in this campaign to stop bulling.
This PSA, developed in partnership with the Ad Council, focuses on the celebration of diversity and raising awareness around prejudices that we may hold. The ad features a black screen showing the skeleton form of the person behind it. Skeletons kiss, dance and hug before revealing just who they were. We admire the way this celebrated a variety of diverse issues by showing that on the inside, we all look the same.
This cartoon by Project Yellow Light illustrates a simple yet powerful message. We watch as two young boys grow up together through the years, organizing hang outs and checking in via texts. On his way to hang out, one of the boys checks his phone while driving and it costs him his life. This cartoon was made in partnership with the Ad Council and the National Organizations for Youth Safety, and we appreciate the clear call to action that is highlighted.
This PSA by No More grabbed our attention with its authenticity surrounding domestic violence. We are shown rooms in a home that have been disturbed as a real recorded voiceover by 911 plays. The woman on the phone orders a pizza, continuing with the charade until the 911 operator realizes she is in danger. The use of an authentic 911 call hit home for us in this one.
In this video, we see the power of perseverance as three PVA members suit up and ski down snow-covered slopes, shredding snow, wiping out and getting back up to finish what they started. This video inspired us with its high-energy storytelling and inspirational message to be UnstoppABLE.
Created by the Ohio Opioid Education Alliance, this PSA features families living in the quintessential town of Denial, Ohio. When asked about opioids, each family takes turns denying its existence. We enjoy the play on words and slightly humorous effect of the parents as they explain how ‘safe and secure being in Denial’ feels while building awareness around opioid addiction.
We feel chills as the first lines of Amazing Grace ring out in this video by Covenant House, a network that provides youth shelters. A teenager huddles in a bus stop, trying to stay warm as snow falls around her. A moment later, that teenager turns into a small child, crying out and all alone. We loved how music and powerful images can tell a story just as effectively (or more so) than an eloquent script.
This PSA starts innocently enough as kids share the items their parents got them for the new school year. However, the ad takes a dark turn when the kids start using the items to protect themselves against a school shooter. We appreciated the shock factor and storyline twist in this PSA by Sandy Hook Promise, with the help of BBDO New York.
Conservation International created a series of PSAs using well-known celebrity voices that embody elements in nature. Through breathtaking visuals, haunting music and words, this PSA effectively communicates a mutually beneficial message: save the planet, save us.
And lastly, this list would not be complete without our favorite holiday PSA of all time!
Holiday Bonus PSA: “Toys Tots — Guard Duty” by the Marine Corps
Created over twenty years ago, this PSA is as heart-warming and touching today as it was then. A young boy, with his Christmas list in hand, approaches a marine on duty, asking the statue-still man if he is Santa Clause. After a moment, the marine’s hand gently opens to receive the list, causing the young boy to gasp in joy. For us, this PSA is what the holiday spirit is all about.
Evocative, emotional and endearing, each of these PSAs force us to see the world a little differently and create a lasting impression. Do you have a favorite PSA that has impacted you in the last decade? Share it with us in the comments. Looking to develop a PSA of your own for your brand? We can help! Learn more here.