Commercials put on by the government for public safety or information. Also known as Government Information Adverts or Public Information Films. These commercials usually try to get you to stop smoking, obey the speed limit, look when crossing the road, or submit your tax return on time. Anvilicious by nature. Since they deal with real-life serious (and not so serious) problems, and often have limited budgets, the potential for Narm is very high, but when done right, PSAs can be quite effective.
Now You Know. And Knowing Is Half the Battle.
The Advertising Council is responsible for many such messages on American television. Some of the UK Road Safety ads (which are also shown in cinemas before the feature) are quite disturbing, as are the anti-smoking ads in the United States.
Those shown during children's cartoons are often either educational or traumatizing. All varieties are susceptible to detournement.
A subtrope is the kind put on by networks themselves, just to say: We Care.
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Luchemos por la vida (Let's Fight for Life)'s ads about road safety have ran for so long that many of them have become catchphrases. Since Argentina has the second highest rate of fatal traffic accidents, they seem not to work.
"Tranqui, 120." (Relaxed, 120 km/h)
"¡Lo que dé!" ("As fast as she can go!")
"No dispare contra su familia" (literally: "don't shoot (against) your family"), a pun on the verb "disparar", which means "to shoot" but it's also a slang for going very fast or be catapulted (as in a car crash) when used in adjective form. That sounds like a decent and clever campaign, right? It isn't.
From the same organisation, in this lovely ad a girl is telling her dad that he's driving dangerously... and then he becomes a freaking scary mix between a monkey and Chewbacca! Pretty startling when you're young.
There were also the infamous SITEA ads, warning about cholera or meningitis. The latter showed a creepy scarecrow looming over a cradle. Unfortunately they are no videos of them but they've left their mark.
Three guesses why this anti-speeding ad's title is "Beach Road"/"Bring me back my boy". And for added horror, the child actor was actually in a crash nine years later. Fortunately he survived and had his driving abilities downgraded.
You'll never be quite able to hear the 12 days of Christmas the same. Brutally effective in showing a family going from normal to living nightmare in the course of a few days; it was originally released in three parts in the days leading up to Christmas of 1998.
You see this sort of thing all the time on Australian TV, and it will always end with "Authorised by the Australian Government, Canberra" or "Authorised by the New South Wales Government, Sydney" or whatever applies for your part of Australia. The most famous of these are short ads against domestic violence, which were parodied here on The Chaser's War On Everything.
A recent series of ads about excessive drinking shows the evening of a drinker through their eyes. In one a guy gets into a drunken punch-up and ends up badly beaten, while another sees a girl drunkenly seduced in the bushes at a party and finds people laughing at her while she struggles to find her panties. But probably the most chilling is the guy who stumbles onto the road while walking home and is fatally hit by a car—in first person.
You know what AIDS is exactly like? The Grim Reaper going bowling. (To make this ad worse, the bodies seem remarkably similar to Holocaust victims. Simon Reynolds is sick.)
Australia had some particularly chilling Domestic Abuse PSAs. One showed a couple eating dinner while the woman next door is presumably being beaten up by her husband. The man at the table very decidedly puts down his fork and picks up a baseball bat. He then knocks on his neighbour's door and hands him the bat. The voiceover says:
If you do nothing about domestic abuse, you might as well lend a hand.
Another Australian PSA that was regrettably pulled from the air was of notorious prison hardman "Chopper" Read describing how those convicted of abuse would be treated in prison. Very effective, since no one really thinks of prison hierarchy (or, for that matter, how it's maintained) when committing a crime. He mentions in the ad that he had his ears cut off while in prison, but doesn't point out (as he has in his memoirs) that he had another convict do it for him so he would be able to leave prison temporarily!
This PSA about the drug "Ice" (i.e. methamphetamine). Seriously, the girl picking at her skin.
A particularly painful example is the recent "Don't be a Dickhead" ads. One of them says "when you drive too fast, gingers have sex", and another one says "when you drive too fast, an emo is born". Way to connect with the hip young dudes of today, middle-management types!
The bushfire ads in Victoria. Black smoke with audio of family desperately trying to save their home, then a blast, and then pictures of a destroyed house. Appear to be designed by some psychopath in the Victorian government for the purpose of deliberately traumatising bushfire victims. Don't blame the CFA for this, we had nothing to do with it. Two follow-ups included a couple driving through a bushfire-affected area and crashing their car, and a family leaving too late only to be trapped by the fire. Thankfully they were shorter and somewhat less terrifying than the original.
A particularly fine example of the form was the Victorian Pictures of You campaign; aimed at stopping speeding. The original advertisement was played simultaneously across all commercial stations in Victoria, and is a heartbreaking piece of film. The extra content on the website, and the open letter that announced the simultaneous playing of the advertisement, are only slightly less devastating to watch.
A PSA showed a man making a speech at his daughter's wedding with jokes about how he sexually abused her when she was a child; and everyone, including the bride and groom, laughing along. This was intended to challenge perceptions that victims of child abuse should somehow forget or "get over" the trauma as adults. Three radio PS As followed the theme: one very similar to the TV ad, another with a woman and her mother reminiscing about how the mother neglected and emotionally abused her daughter, and one where an athlete makes an acceptance speech thanking his abusive father for making him learn to run fast.
In "Stay In School" a group of teenagers ditch school to sneak into a locked beach. All is lovely until land mines start exploding all around them in the best teen-horror-movie style. Blood, screaming, severed body parts. The final shot shows the warning signs on the fence the kids climbed: Explosives Testing Site.
A Brazilian PSA about seeing the eye doctor regularly. Those aren't balloons you're blowing up, Grandma.
Oh god, the preventit.ca workplace safety PSAs: "I'm a trope with a lot of potential. But that's never going to happen because I'm going to be in a terrible "accident"... These grew progressively more tame and less terrifying, transitioning from "Witness the foreshadowed gruesome death/disfigurement" to "The dead man lives on as a narrating zombie" to "Merely hear about the gruesome death secondhand as the dead Rise From Their Graves to chat" to "Hear about the gruesome death that might have happened if someone hadn't stepped in to save the victim at the last second."
A series of Canadian anti-domestic abuse PSAs feature a man eating breakfast at a restaurant with his family. A waitress comes over and pours him some more coffee, and she spills a little bit. The man says "...she spilled my coffee!" All of a sudden he grabs the waitress, begins swearing at her, and then pours the pot of scalding hot coffee down her chest. A voiceover says, "you wouldn't get away with it here, so why should you get away with it at home?"
Another and rather disturbing anti-domestic abuse PSA had a shot of a child sitting on the stairs in black and white. In the background, he could hear his infuriated father yell at his wife about how he comes home from a long day at work and all she could do for dinner was order a pizza. She frantically tried to explain to him that she didn't know he was coming home early and therefore didn't have time to prepare, but he just interrupted her by yelling at her some more and then the child flinched when he heard the sound of a slap and his mother crying. The PSA ended with the text "What's your excuse?"
The National Film Board of Canada put out an animated film Hot Stuff in 1971, showing the dangers of household fires in a disarmingly humorous fashion, depicting the universe consumed by fire started by a married couple and their hungry cat.
You're going to have a lot of trouble coming up with a clever way to admit that this drug PSA will render you incapable of hearing 'He Ain't Heavy' without bawling like a little girl.
The Coalition of Concerned Children's Advertisers have put out a number of classics over the years, including "North American House Hippo", "Creepy Claymation Drug Dealer with Zombie Eyes", and that Internet favourite, "Don't Put It in Your Mouth". Not to mention this gem.
An ad from Quebec government against domestic violence shows a husband screaming and hitting her wife... from the wife's first person view. The actor was quite convincing, and the ad made the news for some time.
There's a campaign called "It's a girl" making the rounds for the Canadian Women's Foundation. We start out watching a baby shower in someone's house and at one point, the new mother opens up a package and finds out that a relative has given her new baby girl a whistle. She's confused for a second but when the woman who gave it to her explains that it's a rape whistle, things become fairly clear. As the mood chills, the announcer explains how dire life can still be for women and we cut to the organization's logo and mission statement. (Though some have expressed concern over the unintentional implication that parents of sons needn't fear the possibility of abuse.)
The infamous UNICEF ad showing planes and tanks bombing the heck out of a Smurf village and lingering on the results. Although it was pulled from TV in the United States, it became the image link for Sugar Apocalypse.
A series of viral PSAs called "If Dealers Told The Truth", where drug dealers talk about the "real" effects of their products - "so, your heart attack, what color do you want it in?" Widely mocked and parodied on the internet.
An advert for a fictional drink called "Trop" (Too Much) that began in the style of an alcopops commercial with happy, bronzed people frolicking on the beach and then degenerating into fighting, vomiting and sexually assaulting each other as they drink more and more.
An example from Finland: Beware of thin ice. Many people claim it to be too traumatising to be on tv. It was/is aired together with the country's most popular children's show.
Probably the most well known PSA in Germany is Forklift Driver Klaus, which is hilariously bloody parody. It has become kind of a cult classic, as it has the appearance of a completely average 70's TV production combined with an amount of over the top Gorn way outside what you usually see in German TV. It's also narrated by the narrator of a series of actual road safety PSAs.
Being a colony to the UK for a century, many of Hong Kong's PIFs are available in both Cantonese and English.
A PSA from Hong Kong showed a teenage girl being killed when an unspecified object falls out of a tower block window onto her head. The ad then goes on to demonstrate that anything falling from that height can be fatal, from a housewife accidentally knocking a pot plant off a balcony to a guy throwing beer bottles out of the window. Justified as HK is bristling with hi-rises.
Two ads in a series about pollution:
Pollution messes up a tree, making it dying. And then the picture turns upside down, and the tree turns into human lungs. Tagline: when nature is polluted, you can't escape from it too.
A girl makes gestures while noises accompany her every move. The noises get louder and louder, until it mutes at her last gesture. Then we see tears on her face. Tagline: Noise pollution turns this world silent.
Illegal renovation on public housing was rampant in the 80s. One ad sees children ruining their toy block towers with such modifications, then it is shown the kids live in one such flat.
This other one has a couple going home to make out. They reach the flat's illegally bolted-on balcony and as they're about to kiss, the balcony breaks, leaving the girl falling and hanging on for dear life.
A series of ads for a charity in aid of teen mothers used Gender Flip to show the problems of teenage pregnancy, including a girl screaming at her pregnant boyfriend to have an abortion, and a boy having to beg his mother for money because he's going to have a baby.
Hong Kong regularly airs fire prevention ads aimed at people living in densely packed apartment blocks. The ads are usually based around the safe use of fire doors, keeping exits clear so people can escape, and helping your neighbours in the event of a fire.
Another one compares cavemen cooking with fire, and a modern restaurant which has its fire exit locked. A blaze breaks out in the latter and no one is safe.
There's one cigarette ad for a fictional brand 'Promised Land' (complete with health warning) which turns out to be an anti-smoking PSA. A narrator 'welcomes' viewers to Promised Land as a couple waves goodbye to a passing car from a hilltop place. Next, they begin smoking Promised Land. The man puts away the cigarette packaging while the narrator explains that cigarette smoking looks cool on the surface. As he says 'look at the truth', the sky turns dark and stormy (so is the cig pack, along with a skull-and-crossbones appearing) and the couple coughs non-stop. Then it is revealed they are at a cemetery, the guy put the cig pack on a TOMBSTONE and the couple turns into lifeless corpses while funeral pyres burn in the background. The cig pack falls from the tombstone and is burned along with funeral money.
And then there's another which contrasts the narrator's sweet talk about the 'fame' you'll get from smoking against images of the hospital, xray, a toilet, and eventually death, while Broadway-ish music plays. The female backing vocals singing "You will never be coming back" at the end helped spook everyone out.
From the same agency, an ad compares life to a cinema billboard. 'Living' is aired on 'today'. The 'coming soon' sections display logos of famous films like In the Line of Fire and True Lies along with burning cigarettes, one stick for each film. The real shock comes at the end where the final film, Die Hard, is accompanied by three burning josssticks (incense sticks burnt for deities and passed ancestors).
One anti-drug ad was based on one of the songs (its lyrics containing references to DUI and drugs) from Sammi Cheng, a famous singer from HK. The ad features a modified version of the karaoke music video to the song, where a girl is singing to the song. Then the song fast-forwards to the final part, and the girl is heavily affected from drug abuse, causing her to sing badly. Before she finishes the last line, her head smashes he screen and the camera zooms out to reveal a TV in a landfill. A creepy voice exclaims 'do you still want to try (drugs)?' Tagline: 'Playing with drugs? You can't win.'
The ICAC, aside from its effective anti-corruption ops, has a few of its own.
A game of Monopoly. The first player works hard to earn a house for his family, a school (education) and a hospital (healthcare). The second player pays a huge sum (representing bribes) and takes away player 1's properties. Player 1 then picks up a Community Chest card bearing the ICAC's number and logo, and player 2 is sent to jail.
The society as an apple, the fruit of hard labour of everyone; and the corrupt as worms, eating the apple until it's rotten.
Stuart, a successful businessman turns into a crocodile (symbolic of his taking bribes) and is later put behind bars by his colleague who reported it, being unable to stand the damages Stuart does to his family and friends.
In a nod to the Godber case (the reason ICAC was set up, and one of the first cases they won), a British businessman/officer walks around his prison cell while voices of his accomplice and family echo.
One Iraqi anti-terrorism PSA involves a man being kidnapped and tortured by terrorists, in graphic detail to the viewer, as they ask him what confession he belongs to—"Sunni or Shia?!?"—until he responds, "Iraqi", followed by a shot to the head.
The king of the scary ones is one shown in Ireland around 2007. Not only do tell you what's in fags ("cigarettes" for those across the pond) but they show you the inside of an extracted part of a smoker's body (it looked like vomit).
The DOE (department of the environment) have produced a number of different campaigns all horrific in their own rights and a majority of the campaigns ranging from the mid-late nineties-2000 onwards have had what could be classed as unsuitable music playing in the background but yet they manage to make them more horrific
The most infamous road safety ad from Ireland is probably one where a drinking driver rolls his car and somehow goes over a fence and into someone's garden, landing on a child who was playing there. Don't watch without clean underwear to hand. It caused a wrenching case of Mood Whiplash the first time viewers saw it, as there's everything's pretty happy up to that point.
another ad involves a young couple sitting on a wall kissing before a oncoming car looses control, flips and crashes into said wall, killing the boy and pinning his body to her now crush legs until they're cut free.
A two part campaign called 'Pay attention or pay the price' about the dangers of being distracted while crossing the road and while driving the first one shows a teenage boy texting a teenage girl while crossing the road resulting in him being run over and killed. the second one shows a mother picking her son up from school and they start to walk home as they are about to cross the road the point of view switches to a man driving and getting distracted by a woman across the street. He runs over the mother and son, killing the child. Both ads had the song 'I want to walk you home' playing in the background.
this anti speed campaign entitled 'Thoughts' has a young couple on a drive while a different music track ( Johnny Nash I can see clearly now, Queen don't stop me, Culture Beat Call him Mr Vain, AC/DC Highway to Hell and Roxete It must have been Love) plays as the driver begins to increase in speed and his girlfriend begins to get increasingly more nervous even appearing to be shouting at him to slow down. They crash into the back of a car where a little girl is watching the line of traffic throwing her out of the car and killing her instantly. The ad ends with the voice over of a court room while the drivers girlfriend looks at him with disgust huddled in a blanket with a police officer comforting her.
excuses shows the daily lives of victims in road accidents (A paralyzed woman being lifted onto her hospital bed, a man looking at a photo of his dead wife, a woman taking off her prosthetic leg etc.) caused by speeding drivers with voice overs of the victims talking about the excuses the drivers that seriously hurt them gave (I was in a hurry, I thought the text was important, the sun was in my eyes etc.) the ad ends with a girl and her father driving while the little girl says it was just an accident and a lorry smashes into their car landing on top of theirs presumably killing them.
Just because shows various near miss road accidents with voice over of each pedestrian or driver (just because, I'm a driver doesn't mean I can see you, just because I'm a jogger doesn't mean you can run me down) inevitably resulting in an actual accident at the end.
There was aseriesof Irish fire safety campaigns filmed from the perspective of a firefighter entering a burnt-out building, complete with raspy breathing through the mask. Each advert would end with a message scrawled on the wall in soot: "YOU FORGOT TO CHECK THE SMOKE ALARM, DADDY!"
The NIFRS campaign's ad "Next" relies heavily on parental guilt. It features a bunch of people sitting in a waiting room in the afterlife, with a stern-faced receptionist directing them to different doorways depending on how they died. Finally, only a cringing woman and a little girl are left in the waiting room, and the girl tearfully says that her mother didn't check the battery to the smoke alarm.
After the 2011 Touhoku earthquake and tsunami, advertisers did not want to be seen to be trying to profit from the tragedy, so TV stations ran endless PSAs from Ad Council Japan. Viewers complained that they hated the jingle played at the end of the commercials, and the Ad Council eventually muted it. Particular criticism was directed at the frequent repeat of an ad encouraging women to get breast cancer screenings, when several hospitals had been destroyed and many more were full up with victims of the disaster.
There's a well known Japanese PSA where a class of schoolkids are drawing, but one boy just sits colouring pieces of paper black. He is taken to doctors and psychologists, but doesn't stop his work until finally the adults put the hundreds of sheets of paper together to create a large image of a whale. The message was to encourage children to think creatively.
In one frequently-aired PSA, a teenage boy feels guilty when he doesn't give up his seat for a pregnant woman on a train; in the next scene he is then shown taking the time to patiently help an elderly person up some stairs. Many Japanese PSAs are focused on the importance of good manners, helping each other and following rules, rather than issues like crime or safety.
Currently, a CGI character called "Pak Abu" (Uncle Abu) teaches Malaysians on everything. Road Safety. Unity. Healthy lifestyle. Unfiltered Pirated Porn Movies. Ect.
An anti-drink-driving campaign in the 1990s features three ads; they shamelessly borrow Australia's TAC ads Girlfriend, Beach Road (speeding) and Joey.
Road safety campaigns since the 2000s have a tagline of "[insert road safety rules here], you can make a difference."
A happy family out for a Sunday drive! Big Bro takes off his seatbelt and leans over to insert in his new CD. And then... BOOM. Deadly crash that accompanies road safety PSAs.
One Proton ad has a female ghost thrown out of a car because she doesn't buckle up. This was more to the funny side.
A boy who plays football for his school is incapacitated because a driver didn't notice him while the boy was crossing the road.
There's an ad where school desks, chalkboards, computers etc are run over by a car, symbolising kids who die/get injured by road accidents.
One ad about septic tank safety sees a boy falling into the tank just because he wants to pick up a ball.
One railway safety ad, 1990s. A schoolgirl and her grandfather gets hit by a train while crossing the railway. The crash itself was filmed using mannequins. The aftermath shows the girl's shoe and gramp's bicycle wheel.
Just as scary, a child safety ad by the Health Ministry sees a baby falling. Out the window. Of a house. On a cliff.
A 70s/80s road safety ad has body bags replacing cars and trucks on the city streets.
One animated ad sees mosquitoes having a party before insecticides and dragonflies bust them out. Party foul.
Another animated has a public toilet forcing (Yes. IT MOVES!) a man to flush after leaving.
Several 90s AIDS ads:
A bride running towards her groom while a voice pauses her over and over about the possibility the man has HIV. The bride eventually embraces him anyway, so he's probably clean.
Scenes of people ostracizing HIV positive people, then in the end turns to one where a woman with HIV is comforted by her family.
A father rejecting prostitute service while abroad. He returns with a teddy bear for his daughter and chocolate for his wife. Message: be loyal to your loved ones.
Teenagers saying no to random sexual relationships.
One particular awkward one about vandalism. A mother gets some strange sickness. Her daughter calls for ambulance; but the driver can't find his way due to road signs being covered by posters and flyers. Paramedics arrive late to a dead woman in a pool of blood and the girl crying. (By all means possible, no sickness causes massive bleeding all over the body, like what the woman had.)
Another weird PSA about corruption. A woman accepts bribe from some shady figure. She opens the bag of money to realise the cash turned into Chinese funeral money (the ones they burn for dead people) and she gets teleported to somewhere in the forest. She gets some hysterical vision and begins to scream. Then the whole thing flashbacks to before she takes the money; this time she rejects. Then the narmiest message ever appears: "Corruption brings you to another world." Yes. They just said that corruption KILLS.
The "Cuidate A Ti Mismo" (Take Care of Yourself) series, directed to children in order to protect them from being ensnared by child predators:
The "Cuenta Hasta Diez" (Count To Ten) series, directed to adults in order to prevent children's physical and emotional abuse caused by anger outbursts:
STOP! And calm yourself. Count To Ten while you breath deeply and slowly.
A few years ago, there was a series of anti-smoking ads on Dutch TV, showing teens doing all sorts of anti-social things, justifying them with the line "Hey, at least I don't smoke!". The idea was to show people that smoking was worse, except the teens did things like kicking people working under their cars in the groin, causing the car to collapse on them. Most people agreed that they'd prefer to see the teens smoking.
There's a new "protect your privacy online" ad making the rounds in the Netherlands. While this sounds like a sensible idea, there are some problems with how it's presented. The tips they give you on the website of the campaign make it sound like you should better not voice your opinion ever on the internet and there are plans for some government controlled databases that hold a lot more private information than you would ever put online.
One Child Safety ad gives the message that whenever a baby or toddler needs help, it's cry will alert you. Unless it's drowning.
These Dutch ads show poisonous substances that look like food with the tagline, "If you can't tell the difference, how are your children supposed to?" Though to be honest, most of the adults watching it should probably be able to tell the difference between lemonade and paint thinner. Especially when there's a paintbrush sitting in it.
This ad continues the theme by showing a compilation of home-video clips of babies and young children being involved in small accidents, complete with laugh track and wacky sound effects a la America's Funniest Home Videos. And then several more clips are played, only this time the audience can hear the children start crying in pain/fear immediately after, cutting to black screens of text each time which give the message that '...thousands of parents watch their children break bones, suffer brain damage, even die as a result of falling accidents. 80% of all accidents happen under adult supervision. Learn faster than they do.'. The message being essentially that adult are useless in regards to preventing young children from hurting themselves.
A fire safety campaign challenged people to be blindfolded and attempt to find their way out of the house in 2 minutes, to simulate trying to escape during a fire. Invariably they wouldn't make it or in one ad a woman did get out in time but was reminded that she had forgotten her kids.
A PSA using the soundtrack of Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven (written about the loss of his son, who died falling out of the window of a high-rise) focused on the dangers to children and the elderly of falling over.
A rather sweet ad about child safety showed a couple who are careful to protect their toddler from dangers and not let him fall over or injure himself. He is then shown as an adult many years later, returning the favour by checking his now-elderly parents' home for dangers and giving them a rubber safety mat to use in the bathroom.
In the 1980s, a domestic tourism campaign featured a New Zealander travelling around the world with the foreigners knowing more about the tourist attractions in New Zealand than he did. Cue while he is kayaking on the Zambezi River, someone asks him where the Victoria Falls are: he replies "somewhere near Taupo"note That's the Huka Falls., not realising they were dead ahead of him. The lesson - "Don't leave town until you've seen the country."
A recent New Zealand Road safety campaign has put up billboards on major highways that cry Tears of Blood when it rains.
There's an infamous ad from New Zealand in which a man is paralyzed in a road accident because he was driving too fast, and then his wife receives a speed camera fine that was issued to him earlier on the day of his accident. The phrase "IT'S THE SAME DAY, DAVID!" is a widely known meme in NZ pop culture.
An anti-drink driving ad aimed at the Maori community showed a boy at a party trying to decide whether to say something to a drunk friend who is planning to drive. He debates the possible consequences in a humorous monologue, including being haunted by the ghost of his friend who offers him chips, and finally finds the courage to speak up in front of everybody. The ad was so successful it inspired the song "Ghost Chips" by The Cuzzies, and immortalized the phrase "you know I can't grab your ghost chips!"
A series of anti-drinking ads:
A man gets drunk at a family barbecue and picks up his nephew and spins him around, but crashes into a wall and seriously injures the child. The man is chased out of the house and collapses in an alleyway sobbing.
People getting drunk and suffering the consequences (injuries, emotional fits, inability to remember the night before) while the sober version of themself watches and cringes in horror.
An office worker goes out to the pub after work and starts drinking to soothe her nerves, getting steadily drunker. She is eventually abducted/presumably raped by a man who follows her. This ad led to complaints of victim-blaming in the premise.
A drunk dad at a wedding tries to break-dance, injures his back and is publicly berated by his humiliated kids.
The commercial discouraging people from buying rock salt and use iodized instead.
As well as that ad about LPG tanks.
An anti-garbage ad about a pig eating through a bedlam with the message "Don't be a pig. You are not a pig" is pure Narm. It had been a Memetic Mutation for a while in the 1990s.
Filipino AIDS awareness ads. For example, the ad of a rusty and rotten water pipe, or the torn dress with some bloodspots.
A breastfeeding advocacy ad has the following: "Dog's milk is for puppies. Pig's milk is for piglets. Cow's milk, for my baby? My baby is not an animal."
In 2010, someone in the Russian Ministry of Health remembered that a common Russian slang phrase for delerium tremens meant something along the lines of "the squirrel from Hell." The result of this was a series of anti-drinking advertisements featuring a drunken, bedraggled CGI squirrel with bloodshot eyes who acted like a man gone half-insane after a night getting plastered. The tagline had him look right at the camera and say "Getting drunk? I'll be coming your way!!"
In an amusing spoof of these, the Swedish bus company Väst Trafik features several of these being made fun of to fit with the message "take the bus" ("Sleep behind the wheel. Way behind the wheel", for example).
Swedish ads for paying your TV licence fees are... bizarre, to put it mildly. "Do you want a snail in your eye?" anyone? The newest one is more like "If you pay your licence fees the TV-people will stalk you and perform musical numbers."
The half-PSA half-short film Cow, made by a police agency in Wales. In the PSA, a girl named Cassie, who is texting whilst driving, gets in a car crash with three other people. There's lots of bonesnapping and blood, and Cassie is the only survivor. A clip of the movie went viral and it was subsequently reuploaded, featured on the news and The BBC, and positively reviewed by news critics. Many teens who watched the film have sworn off texting and driving. The clip of this powerful PSA can be found here. Warning: as we mentioned earlier, it has heavy blood, so don't watch if you're Squickish; there's a reason it's restricted to older teens.
The "Don't die before you've lived" road safety ads aimed at teenagers. One purported to be a trailer for a The Bourne Identity-style movie and ended with the star being hit by a car as a teenager. There were also posters for this, which seems to have focused on the London area.
Parodied impressively by current-affairs spoof The Day Today, whose Spiritual Successor, Brass Eye, famously featured a montage of celebrities somberly relating increasingly implausible stories of the effects of a fictional new drug called "cake". It apparently stimulates an area of the brain called "Shatner'sbassoon".
The United Kingdom has a number of government information adverts that sound more like... well, threats. Specifically, those involving paying your car tax, only claiming the benefit money due to you and making sure your TV license payments are up to date.
They couldn't get worse than the Mysteron-style rings of light hunting down benefit cheats.
The TV licence adverts were parodied in Not the Nine O'Clock News, which had the BBC staging the deaths of people who failed to pay the licence fee — the original slogan was "Get a TV licence — it's cheaper than a fine"; the sketches changed this to "a funeral".
The TV licensing department later followed this up with the aggressive and bullying slogan, "pay now or you'll pay later". It sounds like a protection racket...
Health Education Board Scotland, with the tagline "Think About It", as well as the Scottish Executive and a few other outliers like the NHS and charities, are responsible for giving us these Scottish public information films:
Cute girl, aged about 15, walking down school corridor, sees guy. They walk toward each other in slow motion with romantic music. He says to his friend, "[You] should've seen the state of her on Friday night!" Cut to her puking in a toilet. Imaginary narration: So ye see ladies, ye'll never get a husband if ye behave like a slattern.
A girl running around on a beach surrounded by a pastel-coloured aura, in the typically vague tradition of Partnership for a Drug-Free America - "Drugs Are Bad, but don't expect this advert to explain why".
Another anti-drug one did a split screen about how different a teenage boy's life is if he becomes a heroin addict, compared to saying no. The two stories converge as he passes by himself as a beggar on the street. Any spare change, pal?
Another campaign that started out as happy, funny scenes that ended with people randomly and violently and as realistically as possible run over by cars.
In the Domestic Abuse campaign "Messages", a woman is getting ready for a night out and is confronted with various nasty comments on labels, washing powder boxes, etc. with a male voiceover.
A parody of music videos with three Britney-esque girls singing about how the smell of their cigarette smoke scares all their boyfriends away. The ad became so popular that it led to an official chart release of the song.
A father ranting and raving at his teenage daughter after she's been arrested for drug possession.
A montage of smiling children, with the voiceover saying that these are the results of a healthy diet in addition to regular brushing. Kind of unusual in that you expect a jump scare with some poor kid with rotten nashers at end, but it doesn't happen.
This gory wee number that reminds kids not to go pissing about with airguns.
One advert encouraging people to seek treatment for cancer has a Bait and Switch effect going on with the voice-over talking about how horrible it can to think you might have cancer, while a woman walks into a doctor's surgery, presumably for a critical appointment. When she goes into the office, she sits down in her chair and reassures viewers that cancer is much more treatable than it was in the past and that you should go to your doctor rather than get so scared that you don't do anything about it.
A man rushes into water to help someone who is drowning, but discovers when he pulls them out that the drowning man is himself. The voiceover talks about how people don't help themselves by trying to reduce their risk of cancer, strokes and heart disease.
Foreigners enthusiastically talking about how wonderful and welcoming Scotland is, juxtaposed with images of white Scottish people being racist in some way.
An ad encouraging people to be better parents, with a father lounging apathetically on a sofa and ignoring his young son who is begging him to come and play football.
An anti-drinking ad where a boy tries and fails several times to work up the courage to ask out the girl he likes. Eventually they're at a house party together and he drinks to soothe his nerves, but ends up leering and slobbering all over her and the girl pushes him away in disgust.
Teenagers taking cocaine in a club and being confronted by a Grim Reaper-esque figure who forces them to draw from a deck of cards. This induces different effects in each one: a guy sweating heavily and a girl collapsing with chest pains while her friend (who drew "Paranoia") runs away rather than helping her. Finally, only one card is left: "Stroke", causing the last cocaine user of the night to drop dead in his girlfriend's arms.
A girl's friends are encouraging her to try heroin, but she isn't sure she wants to. They convince her to go over to their dealer's apartment, but then police raid the place and everyone's arrested.
This anti-drinking PSA from the National Health Service seemed to be setting up a Daredevil-esque movie, then twisted it around to show a drunken idiot falling to his death after climbing up scaffolding to retrieve a helium balloon. Another one, showing a fun scene of friends at lunch in a pub, ended by revealing that it was all an hallucination by a drunken bum accosting a woman at a bus stop.
One spawned in the wake of the MMR debacle featured a baby sitting on cliff surrounded by tigers, saying that parents were putting their kids in unnecessary danger by denying them the vaccine.
The very scary "Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives" campaign from the 80s and 90s showed the consequences of drinking and driving from multiple perspectives, from the driver to the victim to family, friends, and others caught up in the tragedy. The ads were usually shown around the holiday season (with one notable exception) and include the following:
The jolly seasonal 'Christmas Pudding' features a family getting ready to enjoy said pudding when one of them recieves a phone call informing her that her boyfriend (who told her earlier he was "stopping for a quick drink") has been in an accident. The merrily blazing pudding briefly morphs into a car in flames, and the laughter of her family in the background turns sinister.
"In the Summertime", one of the most famous UK ads from the 1990s, showed a few friends going for a drive on a summer afternoon (after leaving a pub) while Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" plays. Suddenly the music stops, and we cut to the car having hit a tree, the occupants bloody and presumably dead. It was meant to dispel the idea that drink-driving related accidents were mostly a problem during the holidays. The song was used because it has the unfortunate lyrics "Have a drink, have a drive". Hugo Speer who played the drink driver was actually arrested years later for causing a drink driving accident ironically enough.
In "Mirror", we zoom in slowly on a young woman putting on makeup in front of a vanity mirror while she talks about an accident she and her boyfriend got into. She knew he'd been drinking when she rode with him, but thought they were safe because "he'd only had a couple". She happily informs us they're still together, "though sometimes I think he's only with me because he feels guilty". As she looks towards the camera, we see she's using the makeup to cover scars from the accident, and she suggests that she only stays "because I'm scared I won't get anyone else".
Eyes zoomed in on the face of a young woman who has been run over by a drinking driver, as paramedics attempt to revive her and finally pronounce her dead, while the driver wails hysterically in the background. The victim was played by Denise Van Outen, now famous as a TV presenter.
One more Dave shows a woman preparing liquid food in a kitchen with voice over of men in a pub encouraging their friend Dave to have just one more drink which he refuses saying he's driving but they continue to urge him. The woman is then seen serving up the liquid food to her quadriplegic son and when he struggles she encourages him to have just one more spoonful.
Kathy can't sleep a harrowing ad showing a five or six year old girl wide awake in the middle of the night crying while in the background her mother is heard shouting and crying hysterically at her father who killed a little boy due to driving under the influence it is absolutely heartbreaking
The Think! adverts' gruesome shock endings are so well known that it is something of a twist ending that the protagonist of this fun, upbeat motorbike safety ad gets home safely.
On the other hand, there's these rather adorable adverts about crossing the street, all under the name of the "Think!" campaign.
A more recent UK campaign to get people to drive more slowly through residential areas involves the horrifying image of a dead little girl against a tree, who is slowly dragged backward into the street, bones snapping back into place, before being shown in reverse being hit by a car. She then says that if hit at 30mph rather than 40mph, she has an 80% chance of survival.
Russell Howard on Mock the Week: "If you hit me at 40mph, there's an 80% chance I'll die. If you hit me at 30, there's an 80% chance I'll live." *twists head 90 degrees clockwise* "Stop trying to hit me..."
An equivalent ad from the early 90s (part of the "Kill Your Speed, Not a Child" Campaign) showed three successive scenarios in which the children were hit by a speed sign in place of a car. Each scenario opened with the parents alluding to the fate of the child, with the consequences getting increasingly nastier as the speed goes up (broken leg, potential brain damage, death). No gore to speak of, but the final shots of the unfortunate third child's sister screaming to her and her toy pushchair being thrown up in the air were rather chilling.
Also part of the "Kill your speed" campaign was a black and white ad featuring a young girl informing the audience that she will be killed and giving examples of various excuses that speeding drivers use after they have caused an accident such as running late for work or not paying attention. The TV and radio campaign used the music of Julee Cruise, whose creepy and haunting vocal style fit the visuals perfectly.
The home video "Kill your speed" campaigns showed video footage of young children in happier times: one had voice over of a police officer explaining the protocol for informing someone about a road accident, while others featured readings of poetry about death and mourning (including "Funeral Blues" by WH Auden and "Remember" by Christina Rossetti.) The adverts both end with the caption that all the children shown were killed by speeding drivers.
There were a number of UK adverts offering advice on how to avoid being a target of theft, including not leaving anything valuable in your car, making sure you'd locked up the house properly and being discreet about using your mobile phone. The advice was sensible. Unfortunately, the way it was presented sent out the message that "if you have something stolen, it's your own fault because you were stupid."
A recent UK campaign against "binge drinking" showed a young man preparing to go for a night out. He urinates over his shoes, covers his shirt in curry, smashes his face into a door and rips out his own earring, before leaving the house looking as if he's gone several rounds with Mike Tyson. Another ad, aimed at young women merely showed the heroine vomiting into her hair and ripping her clothes. The clear implication was that women don't get into fights. Have they never encountered the rage of a drunken ladette at 2 a.m.? The BBC has shown that these ads backfired: Little did these guys know, that telling your friends how you peed in your shoes and smashed your face against the door is funny as hell...
Oh, god, the NSPCC ads! There's that one with that poor cartoon child being torn limb from limb by his own father, and there's also that one called "Can't Look"!
There were 2 PI Fs about AIDS several years ago., and all of them were scary.
One featured icebergs falling apart while a narrator talks about said virus in a very scary voice. The worst part? At the end, there was an iceberg
That spells the word AIDS.
An even scarrier one had tombestones instead of icebergs. And as said creepy narrator talks about AIDS, there was a man creating a tombstone
with the word AIDS written on it (complete with scary music). At the end, the tombstone falls, and then a leaflet about AIDS is dropped on it,
and finally, some flowers.
A couple years later, these ads were pulled from the air after complaints that they shocked and traumatized a lot of children.
A Public Service Announcement from the early 1990s in England warned about getting early immunisation for childhood diseases. A group of girls dancing in a circle, holding hands. The shot is out of focus with a washed out look and skewed diagonally. The girls sing a disembodied echoing lullaby with no words as the names of the various diseases appear onscreen. The advert has overtones of "We are all dead from these diseases, and your kids will be, too."
Britain has had some notoriously disturbing Fire Kills campaigns.  One featured an elderly woman battering down her door as the smoke builds up behind her, as well as two young children involved in another fire calling for their mum and dad. This one was pulled for being too distressing. It never stopped them from make plenty of other ones much creepier that one.
The British Government have recently started showing one where a guy crashes his car. As a voice-over details the impact ("The crash didn't kill him. Because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt, his rib splintered and punctured his lung and his arteries were ripped out of his heart") a close up on his torso shows the organs literally smacking against his skin and tearing apart, complete with grisly sound effects. Ghastly. A family-friendly version shown before the 9 p.m. "watershed" just shows him crumple against the wheel in slo-mo as the voiceover talks.
If you want nightmares, look no further than 'Robbie and Apaches'', British PIFs on railway and farm safety respectively, which, in their uncut forms, are like mini-movies of pain and suffering.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Robbie was intended to be a milder replacement for an earlier film, The Finishing Line. How the entire generation that saw those films managed to not become traumatised is beyond understanding. The Finishing Line lasted two years, was televised in full on several occasions, and was 'withdrawn' rather than banned. The first five minutes can be enjoyed here, and the BFI has released the full version on a compilation DVD so that everyone can appreciate the nightmare.
Robbie itself was later replaced by a more modern (1990s) film called Killing Time. This film begins with a dramatisation of a group of friends walking home along a railway line and debating whether to cut across it to save time. One of them anviliciously tells them how dangerous it is and leaves; but the others all run across the track, except for one boy who is too scared. Eventually, he does decide to walk across the track and join his friends but then, for reasons that are never explained (except to show the effects of being hit by a train) he just lies down in the middle of the tracks and is run over by an oncoming train. This is followed by real pictures from accident scenes and railway workers talking about the horror of people getting hit by trains.
Apaches, however, lends itself to jokes a la This is Your Brain on Drugs, albeit sicker, as one of the kids dies by falling into a slurry pit.
There was an urban version of Apaches filmed as well, this time warning kids of the dangers of building sites.
The urban version of Apaches is called Building Sites Bite and features an intelligent yet not Genre Savvy boy named Ronald who is sent by his cousins to different building sites and is given the challenge to "Find his dog and get out without getting hurt." Needless to say, the poor lad stumbles upon his death in every site, being buried alive in a trench collapse, electrocuted by a frayed wire in a half-demolished house, breaking his skull on a concrete wall after falling off a pipe, crushed beneath a pile of bricks and drowns in an abandoned quarry. The moral of the story was that he simply should have declined to go or at least heeded all warning signs. The creepy part? When Ronald is electrocuted, they zoom in in his burned hand, then his pale body, dead on the floor of the building, eyes wide open. That, and his cousins are unfazed by his deaths.
How about the stupidly traumatizing 'I'm Sorry I Killed You' UK advert? A boy in a car accident apologizing to his girlfriend for running her over. A group of 18-year-olds were left staring mutely at the sadist cop who showed it to us. The judge must have seen that ad and gotten ideas.
A very beloved British PSA in the 1960s featured "Reginald Molehusband," a man who was hopelessly bad at parking his car. Buses changed their routes to avoid him and people took bets on his performance, until the day he did it right (with a demonstration for the viewer). In 2007 the BBC launched a nationwide appeal for any existing copies of the film but none were found, so they remade it with the original actor.
There was one with Christopher Eccleston joking along with a dead boy racer and his mates. For some strange reason, it was only shown in cinemas in Scotland, despite being out with of HEBS.
A misguided, but not creepy example is the UK government's adverts for their car scrappage scheme, where you trade in your old car for a more eco-friendly one (or less eco-damaging to be more exact), and get a discount from the government. The message starts, after some examples of 90's culture, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get rid of everything over 10 years old?" Well, not when they're being played on a a classic rock station. In fact, think about it too much and it becomes decidedly sinister. Who made that ad? The future government in Logan's Run?
TheseNightmare Fuel-filled ads were to be broadcast in the UK in case of impending nuclear war. The films were narrated by the famous Patrick Allen, including lines telling what to do if one of your family members dies in a calm, monotone voice. Even now, they can be Paranoia Fuel.
This British anti-drug PSA about the dark side of cocaine and the helpline called Talk to FRANK, voiced by David Mitchell as a dog.
The UK is now running a TV campaign against driving under the influence of drugs, in which police pull over a group of stoned partygoers with hugely magnified eyes (to represent the fact that drug use produces involuntary effects on the eyes.)
Julie, the 'Belt Up In The Back' Campaign ad, is memorably chilling: it starts off with a mother named Julie driving her two unnamed teenage children to school. She begins to be followed by a white transit van, with the voiceover narration "Like most victims, Julie knew her killer.", causing Julie (as does the viewer) to become unnerved as the van gets steadily closer. However, it soon indicates and moves down a side road, to Julie's relief...and that's when the voiceover states "It was her son..." and her car unexpectedlycrashes head-first into a parked car, and the non seatbelt-wearing son in the backseat flies forward and crushes Julie in her seat, allowing blood to shoot onto the windscreen as the son falls back in super slo-motion with a bloodied nose (Voiceover: "...who was seating behind her without a seatbelt"). Immediately followed by the teenage daughter in the front seat screaming hysterically at the sight of her now-dead mother, and the son looking around in dazed confusion (Voiceover: "After crushing her to death, he sat back down.") The PSA is so effective it has also aired in France, Germany and Australia, and was re-made by Shell for audiences in Libya.
A graphic seat belt campaign shows a group of young men buying pizza with two scenarios one where they don't wear their seat belts and presumably die and the other where they wear their seat belt and survive
"Charley Says" is simply disturbing. That cat... became an icon years later when his yowling was sampled for dance music.
A new anti-speeding campaign shows a man who keeps seeing a dead child everywhere goes. It was a kid he knocked down. Made all the more chilling by that you know it's a dummy and you're still freaked out.
Here's a vintage one about the dangers of...putting bags on a pram or pushchair. British PIFs could even make animation scary. That echoing scream and Edvard Munch-esque graphics...brrrr.
British PIFs also had, for many years, a healthy tradition of making and screening films around Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th each year. This is a particularly creepy one, up there with Donald Pleasance as the Grim Reaper. Again, the closing echo adds a lot.
Transport for London and Cabwise have been putting out new posters and commercials about illegal cabs. Here's the video and here's one of the posters◊. Thank you, TfL, for giving every female in London nightmares about cabs. Thank you.
Southwark Council in London made an extremely disturbing film about gun crime, in which a mother pulls out a gun at the breakfast table and shoots her (about five or six-year-old) son in the head, with the child's brain landing in the middle of the table and blood splattering all over the kids (who all start retching and screaming). The message was that keeping quiet about who committed a shooting makes you as guilty as the offender. It has won advertising awards but is so graphic it was only permitted to be shown in cinemas before 18-rated films.
Tufty Squirrel was the mascot of a road safety campaign during the 1970s, beloved to people who grew up as kids during that time. He appeared in a series of films that showed children, in highly Anvilicious fashion, why they shouldn't run out into the road - Tufty's friend "Willy Weasel" was usually the Butt Monkey who would get run over. There was also a "Tufty club" for young children to join.
One Tufty Club book included a strip in which Tufty broke a number of safety rules, and then got out of being punished by bribing the grownups with invites to his birthday party.
This tremendously moving and effective "Embrace Life" seatbelt PSA from the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership. So many elements are just pitch-perfect: the simple music and dreamlike quality of the visuals grab your attention amidst the din of shouty advertising, the performances of all three actors are spot on (the grimace from the father as he faces the inevitable, the hope from the little girl, and the quiet determination from the mother), the fairy wings on the little girl giving her an angel-like quality, and the sudden violence of the impact shown by the table launching across the room. Unsurprisingly, it's gone viral.
An equally striking, but less successful follow-up about motorbike safety showed a child playing in the garage, pretending to ride a motorbike like his dad. It ends with the father coming home safely and hugging his son.
There was one that traded off The Sixth Sense which started off looking like an PSA about Child Neglect with a teenager wandering around commenting on how his family didn't notice him anymore, then revealed he was dead having been hit by a car and never noticed.
In late 2010, the Metropolitan Police released an audio ad featuring the distorted voice of a man screaming abuse at, and then brutally beating his partner. It concluded by asking the listener what they would do if they heard something like that going on next door.
Ewan McGregor provided the voiceover for a Transport for London road safety campaign, showing a motorcylist going about his usual routine on the way to work: "The alarm that gets you up for work. The cereal you have for breakfast. The wife you say goodbye to. The road you cycle along ... (Crash!) "The legs you won't be able to use again …"
Helen Bamber Foundation is a UK-based charity that acts for victims of human rights abuses. They have put out a few well-known PSAs about sex trafficking. One starred Hollywood actress Emma Thompson as the two separate personalities of a woman who has been trafficked: "Elena", her real identity before she was sold into sex slavery, and "Maria", the name her captors use to pimp her out. Another had a young Eastern European woman trying to do normal things like buy groceries and train tickets etc. but the only words she knows in English relate to sex. More horrifying was a full-length PSA dramatising the ordeal of a girl sold into sex slavery. At one point she is raped by her pimps, with visuals of blood raining down the walls of the apartment below the brothel while a family with young children is eating dinner, probably a metaphor for their guilt as they have not told the police about the gang activity.
TV presenter Anne Diamond, whose son died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, fronted a PSA and publicity campaign encouraging parents to reduce the risk by putting babies to sleep on their backs. The campaign has been credited with helping to massively cut the number of "cot deaths" in England and Wales.
A Neighbourhood Watch PSA showed a man breaking into a house, but neighbours gather around and begin a slow handclap to let him know they're watching him. A parody aired on the TV series Beadle's Hotshots, where the people are quiet until the burglar leaves the house, then they burst into rapturous applause and give him a bunch of flowers and a getaway car.
Another crime prevention PIF involves a flock of magpies scarily marauding through someone's bedroom, complete with Psycho Strings rifling through the knicker drawer, ripping apart soft furnishings and making off with jewellery, before a stern faced narrator points out that if you'd fitted proper locks, joined the local Neighbourhood Watch and just shut your damn doors and windows when you went out, this wouldn't have happened. Don't Let Them Get Away With It
The Motor Neurone Disease Association has released a couple of cinema ads:
The first one features a still photograph of a man that fades away as he narrates:
I am dying from Motor Neurone Disease. Every day I'm more helpless as my muscles waste away. There is no cure for my disease and no hope for me, but I want there to be hope for others.
The second one featured a woman being locked into a room that's empty except for an electric wheelchair. She's then flung across the room by an unseen force, writhing and contorting in agony as she's dragged into the chair.
An anti-smoking PSA where a man's daughter watches glumly as he heads outside to have a cigarette. Later, he catches her looking up lung cancer in a medical encyclopaedia.
A cinema/poster/radio campaign showed kids who would have grown up to be famous pop stars, movie stars, supermodels, athletes, rappers, dancers or computer games designers, but were hit by cars and killed when they were young. Apparently, the lure of becoming a scientist or something wasn't enough ...
The latest "Don't stand around on a level crossing and get mowed down like an idiot, idiot" ad starts out with a family biking through the country-side with the youngest playing "I spy something with the letter 'T'"; just before the older sister gets mowed down by a train like an idiot for stopping on a level crossing, she stops on a level crossing like an idiot and says "Is it 'track'?" We cut to black as the train mows her down, flash the tag-line See 'Track', Think 'Train' and then display the ident of Network Rail.
The 'crisis' ad by the red cross shows a young woman walking down a dark street informing the audience that she is the cause of their misfortunes with examples such as the fire that causes homelessness or the boiled sweet stuck in a child's throat because she is a crisis and she doesn't care who you are.
The picture for this trope comes from the World War II PSA which called on Americans to carpool in order to conserve fuel for the war effort - "When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler!".
But if you're riding with Hitler, you are carpooling.
Bill Maher updated and parodied this PSA in his book, "When You Ride ALONE You Ride with bin Laden: What the Government SHOULD Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism".
The Crying Indian PSA from Keep America Beautiful that is coupled with the narrator with a determined tone who says, "People start pollution, people can stop it!" Note that the "Indian" in question was, in fact, Sicilian.
There was also the ad which showed someone clearly drunk getting into a car with some friends. When the person starts the car, the next scene shows the car on fire and the people turned into burning skeletons.
A public health advertisement implicitly compares having a stroke to being savagely beaten by Michael Clarke Duncan.
These workplace safety ads run by the Utah Labor Commission. Nothing says "workplace safety" like taking a nosedive into molten metal.
Since the late 1980s, the Partnership for a Drug Free America (now called the Partnership at Drugfree.org) has created memorable PSAs warning parents and children of the dangers of illegal drug use (though in recent years they've created ads about prescription drug abuse as well). Many of these ads are full of Nightmare Fuel and Tearjerker elements, which didn't stop them from being aired during Saturday morning cartoons in the late 80s and early 90s.
"This is your brain." (shows egg) "This is drugs." (shows frying pan) Crack. Sizzle. "This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"
This was parodied by Bill Hicks who said he's had many hallucinogenic experiences on drugs, but never one that made an egg look like a brain.
"My name is Jesse Corti, and what I'm about to tell you is real." In a 1990 Drug Free America ad, actor Jesse Corti talks about a train accident in 1987 where a passenger train collided with a freight train. In the investigation that followed, the engineer admitted to having smoked marijuana on duty, and ignoring safety regulations that could have prevented the collision. "They say marijuana doesn't hurt anyone. But this time, 16 people died. And among them...Laura Corti, my wife."
Faces a nightmare inducing PSA showing a girl looking at the camera while happy birthday plays in the background. Her face begins to deteriorate while a creepy voice sings "How old are you now? La dee da dee dee" the girl's eyes eventually becomes lifeless and a white sheet is thrown over her face. There was also another version with a slightly different opening tune but the creepy singing is still there.
Several years ago, there was an anti-Ecstasy spot made to look like a prescription drug ad, complete with list of side effects and the concluding voice-over "Ask your doctor why Ecstasy is not right for you."
The city of Las Vegas did one in 2008 to get people to reduce water usage. Involving a Groin Attack.
The Montana Meth Project puts out some pretty gruesome PSAs. Also does tobacco. You get to barf every time you see this. Warning, link not safe for anything.
'Meth Cleaner Girl' is possibly the catchiest and most disturbing anti-meth ad outside of the Montana project.
Less well known than Meth Cleaner Girl, but from the same campaign, was an ad with a cheery song about how great you feel on heroin, juxtaposing lyrics about being surrounded by beautiful people at glamorous parties with visuals of a heroin user writhing on a bathroom floor and vomiting into a grimy toilet.
A number of MPAA-driven Digital Piracy Is Evil adverts have been shoved in front of movie trailers, such as stunt coordinator Manny Perry's very earnest "Respect Copyrights" and "Movies: They're Worth It." (Tagline: "YOU CAN CLICK — BUT YOU CAN'T HIDE.") Appropriately, it's almost impossible to find pirated uploads of them on YouTube...
"It's 10 P.M. Do you know where your children are?"
It's usually shown just before the evening news. In some versions depending on the market and what the curfew is, it says "11 P.M.".
According to an urban myth, a company did a phone poll at 10pm to ask parents if they knew where their children were. 90% were answered by children who didn't know where their parents were. If it isn't true, it should be.
There was a particularly nightmare-inducing '70s PSA called "House of the Hemophiliac." It shows eerie visuals of a camera panning around a house, zooming in on ordinary objects which would present a big danger to a hemophiliac: knives, table corners, the cat...
There was an anti-drunk driving PSA, which was aired in the '70s. An Eric Foreman-type kid is driving his girlfriend home; he's clearly had a few and is pleasantly buzzed - then he runs into her dad's parked car, putting a big dent in it. The ad ends with her dad coming out the front door, looking not pleased. What adumbass.
Don't Text and Drive is a PSA specific to Colorado, produced by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). It features a teenage boy, on voice over, talking about the day his sister didn't come home, the little sister out playing, and another teenage boy driving a car. The story is told out of chronological order: starting right after the collision, flashing back to the girl playing with her friends, cutting to the paramedics working on her, then cutting back to the driver texting, forward to paramedics again, then showing the driver inside the car and the sickening thud of the car hitting the girl. This ad had won a contest that CDOT held in state. For some reason, it is often shown on cable channels with a preschool/parent audience.
Since then, AT&T has gotten in on the fun, presenting various stories from the survivors (or perpetrators) of texting-caused accidents in an effort to discourage the practice.
In a Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesPSA, the turtles' anti-drugs message is undermined by Michelangelo's anti-munchies advice: "Get a pizza!" It also contains a hilariously lame response to an insult: "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey!"
The Texas Department of Transportation created an advertising campaign (with print ads and a TV commercial) featuring a young woman named Jacqueline Saburido, the victim of a drunk driver who was burned over 85% of her body and has had to have her face completely reconstructed so she could breathe and eat independently again.
The 'bubble' PSA was a pretty famous one in California - basically, instead of smoking, people went around blowing bubbles, and the camera followed the bubbles, to illustrate the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue aired, earlier in 2010, a rather creepy, paranoia-inducing PSA notifying taxpayers of a deadline for paying back taxes without penalty. Because, Tom, we do know who you are.
While being in print form as opposed to commercials, consider New York City's "Two drinks ago" anti- binge drinking campaign. One◊shows a bloodied man assumed to have been beaten up, with the caption "Two drinks ago you would have walked away." The other◊ shows a heavily intoxicated woman who looks as if she's about ready to pass out, with the words "Two drinks ago you could still get yourself home."
One of these inspired the setting for Sesame Street. Specifically, one that parodied vacation ads - "Send your children to the ghetto this summer!" After listing off "amenities" (including "field trips" - to trash-strewn vacant lots), the actor playing the pitchman declared, "Don't want your kids playing here? Don't expect our kids to." The PSA ended by extorting, "Give jobs. Give money. Give a damn." On seeing the PSA, Jon Stone, one of the producers in charge of designing Sesame Street, concluded that setting the show on an inner-city street would be the best way to get inner-city kids to watch it (since they were the target audience).
Some of the most violent, disgusting, and disturbing anti-smoking commercials come out of Florida. Oddly enough, very few of these focus on quitting smoking, but rather on trying to avoid smoking outdoors. This may be due to a high population of older people who have been addicted for an extremely long time. A particularly disturbing commercial had everyone wearing gas masks while "Ring Around the Rosie" was sung in slow-motion in the background. At the end of the PSA, the mood and music lightened as a woman on a bench was shown to be smoking instead of wearing a gas mask.
Then there were several ads against crack, rock cocaine. One featured Paul Reubens in character as Pee Wee Herman, another had Clint Eastwood. The Pee Wee one is often noted for it's Narm.
The Alamo Drafthouse theater chain in Texas has a strict policy of no talking or texting in the theater, and if you do either, then they "take your ass out" (their words). To send the message, they run "Don't Talk" PSAs before every movie explaining this policy, many of which have celebrity cameos. One of them features former Texas Governor Ann Richardsliterally throwing people out of the theater, and another one features a voicemail from a disgruntled customer who was thrown out on her ass and felt like venting to the management — and comes off sounding like an entitled (and stupid) asshole in the process.
A Recent one in Houston created RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. in cases where there is an Active Shooter in your workplace.
From the Thundercats: In this PSA about underage drinking, the act that it's against law for kids to drink alcoholic beverages is the only reason given by Lion-O and Snarf as to why they shouldn't drink.
An early 1980s commercial featuring puppets in the shape of pills in a dangerously open medicine bottle. The lesson here is "We're not candy." This dates back when many tablets had flavored coatings to protect the medication from oxidation. It was because they could be mistaken for candy that the flavored coatings have all but disappeared. Today, most over the counter or prescription tablets taste appropriately chalky if they have any taste at all.
The "Professor of the Rap" (AKA Gary Byrd of the GB Experience) comes to an inner city school in a 1985 commercial to talk about the dangers of drugs and alchohol. His song One Dumb Move can Blow Your Groove was recorded on a single.
This infamous advert from PETA has become famous on the internet after a number of response parody videos were made featuring different characters.
Adam Hart-Davis and "Self-assessment. Tax doesn't have to be taxing."
Thank you, Larry and Vince. "You can learn a lot from a Dummy. Buckle your safety belt." The costumes are in the Smithsonian now as tribute to how well the campaign worked not only at its intended purpose but becoming an icon immortalized in pop culture around the whole world.
Especially creepy are the anti-smoking ads. Remember the coughing baby? How about the woman smoking out of her stoma (a hole in her neck)?
An ad showing a young man riding his bicycle erratically, weaving through traffic, riding against traffic, and not watching where he's going, ending with, "And avoid... IMPACT!" as he slams into an opened car door, flies over it and leaves his blood and brains all over the pavement. (This was back before anyone even considered requiring helmets for anyone, let alone bicycle riders.)
One of the more memorable boat safety ads involves the narrator noting, "You don't think you need to wear a lifejacket yourself, but you'd never risk your kid's lives." The camera shows two children forlornly looking overboard of a powerboat into the water. "Good plan. They didn't need you anyway."
Nemyslis zaplatis was the tagline for a series of PSA's about driving safety, there was one about the dangers of holding your baby in your arms on a car journey it is horrific
Red vs. Blue often releases "PSA" videos, though the only ones that weren't parodies were the two about voting (which were still humorous).
"Simon [a boy of about 8] is about to kill his father... In a crash, [without a seatbelt] at 50 km/h, Simon is hurled forward at [n] times his weight...a 650-kilo cannonball. Imagine...an adult."
A fear of trains can be safely blamed on a Special Assembly at school, where the usually non-threatening visiting policeman presented a half-hour of reasons why venturing onto railways is inadvisable. Reconstructions, interviews with bereaved parents, avuncular coppers showing safe ways to cross- all to be expected. Then, 3 still photographs of dead kiddies done in by various trainly dangers. One perched on an embankment, presumably having been flung there by a passing express. One on a slab, peaceful apart from some serious electrocution burns. The last, photographed before being scooped off the tracks, was an upper body and head shot of a 'run-over' victim; until then, it had not been clear that people struck by heavy locomotives do not politely slide under the wheels, but undergo violent dismemberment. This particular example still had an intact head and arms and the worst aspect was their slightly puzzled expression- a sort of "Hmm, what's that odd rumbling noise?" face. Evidently the train had struck them before they could switch to 'Argh, impending death!' An undignified fainting spell was narrowly avoided. Twelve years later, including three years of daily train journeys, and the fear remains; the conditioning worked a little too well.
The National Lampoon did a comic book-format PSA parody "Heading For Trouble" that managed to fit in drunk driving, starting forest fires, littering, hitchhiking, chatting on police emergency phones while dressed in commercial trademark character costumes - sublime absurdism from Brian McConnachie.
In one episode/chapter of Bleach, Peche, one of Nel's Fraccion, pulls his sword out of his loincloth. Dondochakka then pops up and warns the people watching not to attempt to pull a sword out of their pelvis.
There was a PSA showing a home video of an adorable year-old baby repeating simple Spanish words for numbers from her mother. Then it shows a message saying how the baby was killed by an irresponsible drunk driver a month or so after the video was taken.
Many anti-drunk driving ads use this premise. Home movie footage is shown of a person who died in an accident caused by drunk driving. The most recent one featured a Marine who just graduated boot camp.
Australia had a similar one. A father and son were driving along talking about what they were going to eat for dinner and suddenly BOOM he hits a woman. We see her mangled corpse, a bleeding baby and the 4 year old crying "DA-da-dadyyyyy * sob".
The UK ran a similar campaign during the mid-1990s, which showed home video footage of children who had later been killed by speeding drivers, with famous voiceovers reading solemn poetry about death and grieving (including John Hannah's rendition of WH Auden's Funeral Blues as heard in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.)
That one among many others beginning in the late-1980's, and for the most part is still included in new arcade games (in North America). NARC, which already had an anti-drug theme, was one of the first arcade games, if not the first arcade game to feature it.
Moreover, the laserdisc game Hologram Time Traveler, went a little bit further by having "Marshall Gram" (the main playable character) come out and tell the players directly, "And just remember pardner, winners don't use drugs".
Rock Band has an arcade venue where the cabinets will occasionally show the screen. It's very rare that a shot of one of the cabinets will be clear enough while it's showing this screen for a keen eye to notice the first word is "Weiners".
Doctor Steel has made several of these covering philosophical subjects such as transhumanism, freedom of thought, and subjective reality and posted them on YouTube. He also has mock PSAs within his films The Dr. Steel Show, Episodes 1 and 2.
American and British schools alike bring in either acting troupes or guest speakers, to talk about social issues such as drugs. If the show is hard-hitting enough, it has the unfortunate side effect of making arouund a third of the audience pass out or cry. Don't do drugs, kids.
Crank Yankers has a "You Got to Know" PSA segment with Karl Malone saying: "Remember kids - Karl Malone say, 'no runnin' by pool with scissors'."
Chelsea Handler says "It's O.K. to be non-gay." in this mock PSA.
Key And Peele have a really bizzare parody involving Mr. T, where he ignores the kids talking about racism, drugs, or alcohol but immediately appears when they make a reference that could be tied back to him.
Director Jeffrey Wisotsky in association with the Narcotics Task Force and NYC Housing Authority made a series of anti-drug PSA spots during the mid 80s. This one appears to be the most straightforward one out of them. All of the PSA spots in the series were cheesily acted, however, it's not apparent what they were aiming for with this one. Crack is like "putting a gun to your mouth and pulling the trigger!" is clear enough, but the actor's unusal delivery (coupled with a forced attempt to appear intense and seemingly voice change mid sentence) has been compared to a very odd Christopher Walken impersonation.