Everyone I know loves public service ads. They win awards, make great forwards and spark off interesting conversations.
But that’s not all that public service ads are meant to achieve, at least ostensibly. What they are really supposed to get from you is a sacrifice. A public service campaign almost always wants you to give up money, a habit, a vice, a convenience, a comfort or an element of your social status.
To complicate things, there are different levels of sacrifice. Here are a few, based on what you have to give up.
Clearance sale sacrifice: These are campaigns that ask you to donate to a cause or to report a problem. Great bargain! For the price of a telephone call, a few drinks or clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in anyway, you get to become the fairy godmother of the underprivileged. The fact that so many ngos are flourishing is proof of the fact that this category of public service ads work.
Fair price sacrifice: This is where you’re asked to stop using something, say a brand of lippie or t-shirt, to discourage the abuse of children, animals or the environment. While your ego might twitch a bit at being deprived of the coolest logo on your chest, there’s a built-in escape clause in the form of options. There are other brands on the shelf, and another ice age will have to dawn before you have to expose the world to your parched lips. The result? Several companies have backed off from these evils and are even advertising the face.
Daylight robbery sacrifice: Give up something you love, need or want or suffer, demands the campaign. Hey did you see that great anti-smoking/drinking/drunken driving ad, you ask your friends as you light up, order another round of drinks and look for your car keys.
It’s funny, that when it comes to public service advertising of the third kind, creative people get it sooo wrong. In spite of all the hard hitting campaigns featuring orphaned children, dead horses and scary messages,
Is it because the otherwise successful people who work on these campaigns see public service as a totally different ball game from selling products? Or because the objective is more often the means (to be different/hard hitting/creative, etc.) than the end? Is it because there are no clients with an eye on targets and results?
What if public service campaigns that demand an expensive sacrifice used the principles of selling expensive products?