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PSA media projects mix art and science

April 25, 2013

Eggs frying - your brain on drugs - WikipediaA public service announcement (PSA) is a message in the public interest, aired without charge on radio or television in order to raise awareness or change attitudes towards a social issue. In an iconic PSA from 1987, a man holds up an egg and says “This is your brain.” Then he cracks the egg, puts it into a hot frying pan, and says “This is your brain on drugs.”

In the USA the FCC requires that broadcasters operate in the public interest, so the average TV station airs hundreds of PSAs a week. Here’s a radio spot from the US Department of Energy:

Perhaps the best known PSA producer is a group called the Ad Council. Here’s a funny one they produced for AdoptUSKids:

A well-crafted quick message can be very effective at encouraging listeners or viewers to take action. For that reason and many others, college professors have discovered that having students create PSAs can be a valuable learning experience. The workload and technology burden are relatively manageable, since a PSA is typically very short – usually either 15, 30 or 60 seconds.

There’s a science to fitting the right amount – and the right kind – of information into a very short time frame. There’s also an art to presenting the information in a way that tugs at emotions and elicits action. Martin|Williams won a Clio Award for this pro-bono PSA for the Not For Sale Campaign:

I’m a huge fan of audio, so I’ll finish up with another example of a radio spot. This one for The Nature Conservancy features Michael Douglas:

Develop your own PSA assignment!

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