Public Service Announcements, or PSAs, have been used to inform and educate the public on a myriad of issues. They are considered the most powerful means of communication available to non-profit organizations. Current trends in non-profit PSAs include the push for emotional connections over fame, humor and satire in PSA design, and relatability to the target audience.
Emotional Connection over Fame
- The use of celebrities has been a common trend in non-profit PSAs but there has been an increasing shift towards pushing for emotional connection over the appeal of celebrities and the fame they command.
- This study measured the effectiveness of using local victims as opposed to celebrities in a PSA to solicit funds for Hurricane Katrina victims. It was found that while a local celebrity was found to be more credible than a national celebrity, it was the local victim of the disaster that was considered the most credible and believable spokesperson. This can be attributed to the fact that they were the ones most affected by the disaster, thus the audience connected more with them emotionally.
- An example of the effectiveness of this trend is the viral Love Has No Labels PSA by the Ad Council. It featured an X-ray machine that showed skeletons showing affection to each other. Real people then stepped out from behind the screen to reveal themselves as people of different ages, sexual orientations, races and religions, showing that love truly had no labels.
- It won both the 2016 Emmy Awards in the Outstanding Commercial category and the 2016 Shorty Awards. This PSA went viral amassing an aggregated 160 million views and 1.8 billion media impressions, becoming the fastest spreading campaign ever and the second most viewed and shared PSA. Love Has No Labels sparked conversation and reactions on social media and inspired similar PSAs in 2017.
- PSAs that appeal to positive emotions are more likely to be effective because of their appeal to human emotions everyone has or aspires to. Advertising that stirs emotional feelings in their audience is more likely to be shared online on social media and prompt for action.
Use of Humor and Satire
- More and more PSAs are incorporating the use of humor and satire in their production. They help PSAs create a unique hook that makes them stand out, be memorable, and worth sharing. Humor, for instance, lends a positive effect towards the perception and reception of an ad, as well as enhancing its recall and attention.
- For the non-profit PSA, What If Bears Killed Five People, anti-sexual assault organization It's On Us teamed up with popular YouTube Channel College Humor, to create a humorous and satirical PSA concerning sexual assault. It shows a hungry bear trying to attack 5 men in a room. The PSA implied that since no one would ignore a hungry bear in a room, they should also not ignore the statistic that sexual assault happens to one in every five women in college.
- It enjoyed significant coverage across mainstream news sites, as well as amassing over 2.8 million views on YouTube. Shorty Awards that honor the best in social media, praised the PSA, saying that College Humor and It's On Us found a humorous way to talk about a very sensitive and difficult topic. Using a variety of emotions and feelings, such as humor and satire also gives people a reason to share a PSA.
- Most stations have stated that the most important considerations in deciding to air a PSA is its relatability to its audience. Thus, it has become imperative that PSAs cater to issues that are of interest to the station's prime audience.
- Relatability helps PSAs to spark conversations, make meaningful connections and encourage sharing on social media and with friends and family.
- Ad Council, the makers of Love Has No Labels, released the PSA in March 2015, which was then considered Pride Month, before President Obama declared June as the official Pride Month. LGBTQ issues are usually highlighted during Pride Month, which made this ad very relatable to the LGBTQ community. The fact that the PSA also celebrated other forms of love made it relevant and relatable to a wider and more diverse audience.
To determine current trends in non-profit PSAs, your research team began by looking through news articles, press releases, and authoritative editorial pieces by industry leaders on the same. International Media Monitor Cision's findings contributed significantly to the findings included in this report. A 2007 study on the effectiveness of PSA spokespersons was also included since it was the only study of its kind that was easily available. Its findings were deemed relevant and pertinent to this research.
The trends were chosen based on the effectiveness of each trend and the availability of supporting evidence of the same. Supporting evidence was determined by media impressions, whether the PSA went viral, industry commentaries and whether it received any awards or accolades.
Additionally, every example that was cited is a non-profit PSA. There was no indication that any of the PSAs featured in our findings was used for profit. The PSAs including in our findings dealt with social issues like sexual assault and discrimination.