"Mr. Yuk," a grimacing green face intended to warn kids of poisonous materials, is notoriously creepy. While he was intended to be a little scary, his creators certainly did not intend for him to cause the mass nightmares and burning horror that Mr. Yuk did. Steel yourself for the short, or sing along to the full song here.
It also establishes that even in your own home, you're not safe. No wonder this generation is paranoid.
Another classic from the bad old days: Boys Beware. The short swaps the word child molester with homosexual, and is egregious enough in its mischaracterization even of that to make Pat Robertson wince. Contains lines like, "What Jimmy didn't know was that Ralph was sick. A sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious; a sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual, a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex." Make a "scared straight" joke at your own risk!
Entertainingly, the film bends over backwards to demonize gays, but gives unqualified approval of hitchhiking.
Scare Campaigns are common in political advertising - and several studies suggest that they are one of the most effective types of political campaign.
Interestingly, studies done in 2008 found that they had decreased greatly in efficiency since a similar study in 2004.
Similarly, in 2004, British progressives were given the voter rolls in various swing-state counties that narrowly went Bush in 2000, and encouraged to write letters to residents explaining why they should vote for Kerry instead. Bush handily won all of them.
Example aimed at adults: The UK government doesn't like benefit cheats. The UK government doesn't like people who dodge their TV license payment. The UK government doesn't like people who don't pay their car tax. Their solution is to broadcast dark/grey shaded adverts with monotone voice overs that wouldn't be out of place in a horror film: "We know where you live. We can check your post. Our computers can find you anywhere." If anyone else sent a tape like this, it would be called "stalking." Instead, it's perfectly reasonable to commission a series of adverts that solemnly inform you that if you claim benefits while employed, you will be hounded by Mysterons before there's an ominous knocking at your door...
Hilariously undermined by the "lost databases" fiasco. An agency which puts million-person databases on unencrypted, take-home laptops and can't even manage to keep them in the right country isn't likely to run the omniscient killing machine the adverts suggest.
Also rather annoying. The government can fine people because it knows where they live, what car they drive, and the intimate details of their back account. Why the hell can't they just bill them automatically, then?!
Because they need proof, which often requires the necessary surveillance.
The downside was that the Grim Reaper became identified with gay men rather than as the Reaper. That was what we had unintentionally produced - [the belief] by some that the Reaper was people with HIV infection, rather than the Reaper harvesting the dead.
There is a poster in high school Chemistry classes: "Carol never wore her safety goggles... now she doesn't need them." The picture beneath is of a blind woman.
This poster has gone through Memetic Mutation because of how much more alarming and terrible a fate she suffers compared to everyone else in that particular poster series.
The UK PSAs about making sure you have a working smoke alarm have become more and more grim; years ago the reminder to regularly check the batteries was a benign "thumbs up on a Monday!" Today the ads are set in a dismal waiting room to the afterlife with a sadistic administrator barking at people why they're dead, with the punchline of a child telling their parent "you forgot to check the battery, Mummy." This same tagline was used in a disturbing poster - it's scrawled in soot on a charred wall, in a child's handwriting.
There was also a nineties UK fire alarm advert featuring a couple weeping and constantly rewinding a video of a child opening a present, followed by the voiceover 'Check your smoke alarm.' Horrified me for years.
There are people who still can't get the sounds of the old woman screaming for help out of their head years later. Also, the third one saying to keep your exits clear, with a shot of a man struggling to get past a bicycle in his hallway is terrifying if you live in a house which has a thin narrow hallway leading to the door.
Hong Kong regularly runs fire safety campaigns worse than this, showing people trapped in high-rise apartment buildings that they can't escape from. The campaigns have become less severe over the years, but up until the early to mid-2000s it was common to switch on and see scenes of panicking people trapped in basements or barricaded into hallways because of items stored there.
An ad was showing a bedroom with a couple sleeping in it, wonderful CG making it seem underwater. A calm voice says "Dying of smoke inhalation is just like drowning..." - and the CG disappears, the bedroom is almost invisible due to black smoke.
There was a campaign shot in grim black and white, with a soundtrack of creepy choral music. All the while we see memorials for the dead (such as a funeral wreath, the order of service booklet for a funeral, and a memorial plaque on a gate) with excuses that people make for not having working smoke alarms: "I didn't know where to buy one," "I didn't get around to it," etc. Finally, we see a gravestone with the dates of death of a married couple ("My husband should have fitted the smoke alarm," "My landlord should have fitted the smoke alarm") and their baby, who was three months old.
The music that is used in this ad is in fact 'Down to the river to pray'
There was a pretty graphic PSA in the UK in the nineties about chip pan safety with a woman's voice over explaining what you should and shouldn't do if your chip pan catches fire. The ad ends with a shock tactic as the woman is shown at the end revealling what happened to her because she didn't follow the instructions and how it could easily happen to the audience. Horrifying
Back in the nineties, there was an anti-drug PSA that featured a little girl sitting in her room when it suddenly began to rapidly fill up with water. You got to see her frantically try to open her window before presumably drowning and floating offscreen. It was about the effects of huffing, which has the same effect on the brain as drowning.
The end of the PSA adds to the scare factor, as we get to see the little girl's dead corpse float across the screen, eyes open and all. This was so scary, that future airings of the PSA completely edit out the ending.
Or, alternately, they send an unintended message: "Don't get these jobs. Work in an office where you won't get hurt." That seems to be a perfectly natural response for people who already have anxiety disorders.
There's one 'wear your seatbelt' ad (I've not seen it for a while, so it may have been discontinued) that shows - in quite gory detail - a man having to brake suddenly for some reason. His organs get flung against his ribs, the ribs snap and dig into his lungs. On a twenty-foot-high screen. Lovely.
One hilariously ineffective billboard put up by PETA showed a picture of a child eating a hamburger with every visible sign of enjoyment, that still expected us to believe it when it told us that feeding children meat was child abuse.
Some even more ridiculous ads showed naked humans being subject to the "torture" animals are put through.
The "Click It Or Ticket" seatbelt ads often lurch into either self-parody and/or incitement to rebellion; as inane as the national slogan is, the local cops should definitely not be allowed to star in their own PSAs.
Many of the PSAs depict an officer pulling a person over and giving them a ticket for seat belt violations. This is inaccurate in many states where seat belt violations are only secondary offenses, meaning that you have to be pulled over for something else before you can be cited for a seat belt violation.
Many anti-drug or anti-smoking ads love to show some pretty graphic images of what will happen to your body, inside and out, if you do drugs or smoke. Bonus points for using the Guilt Trip by showing the consequences of doing either if you are a pregnant mother and show what will happen to the baby after it is born. May also show the negative effects of smoking being passed down to children in the house during the ad.
A particularly scary one is when a smoking ad showed a human aorta (taken from a dead smoker) and then they squeezed the plaque out of it. It was graphic and disturbing, and it showed up on a channel for kids.
Another disturbing one shows how a smokers lung would look if squeezed like a sponge into a beaker: black, thick sludge. This one is also shown frequently during kids' programming.
Another one featured a smoker being dragged away with a fish-hook through his cheek. This appeared on posters and on TV.
Yet another one is the Australian ad that basically goes through their horrorfolder, complete with strokes, gangrene, and even mouth cancer. Why must they inflict this on us non-smokers?
The Australian one's got a sequel, which shows some sorta X-Ray silhouette of a toddler inhaling second-hand smoke or something. Then it shows toddlers becoming ill and wearing oxygen masks. It also comes with the usual images of people's insides rotting.
The latest batch of anti-smoking PSAs in the states show what longtime smokers have to live with everyday, such as one where a man is constantly gasping for breath, and a woman is lying in bed, having had a stroke, and now being unable to take care of herself. Perhaps the most disturbing, however, is shoing a picture of a woman, then showing the woman now, getting ready for the day, first by putting on her wig, then putting a plastic plug in the hole in her neck, then putting a wrap around this, all while she says what she's doing in a very cracked, barely understandable voice.
As the push towards No Smoking in Australia has increased so has the effort to scare smokers into quitting. As well as disallowing the display of cigarettes plain packaging had been introduced with only the brand name and the graphic consequences of the habit. Not only has this come with discontinuing the production of certain brands the remaining ones allowed for sale have changed in branding and taste, making Marlboros for example and JBS or Superkings very much the same.
Australia has a very clever scare tactic Anti-smoking PSA going at the moment (2013). During an ad-block, a graphic and depressing PSA is shown, with narration telling you how much it hurts and how "death will be the least of your worries". It ends on a dark note. A few ads later, it appears that another one comes on, compleate with dark and depressing narration about the pain, growing symptoms and how "this is it". Cue the man in the PSA standing up smiling as the ad says "you've done it, you've quit smoking for good". Turns out it was encouraging you to get through the negative consequences of quitting. It's quite effective when it offers a positive chance at "redemption" from the horrific consequences you witnessed not five minutes ago.
In Finnish radio, there is a fishing license ad where two men discuss their license situation. One man warns the other: "If you don't have a fishing license, the authorities can take away your equipment." The trick is that the word used for equipment, "vehkeet," can also mean the male-only equipment.
In English they could use the word "tackle".
A drunk-driving PSA, which ran in Romania circa 2008-2009, started out like a car salon presentation: expensive cars with hot girls sprawled over them... and then the camera zooms in on the girls: some are missing limbs, others have half their face burnt off, and such.
In the 80's, Spain had a Just Say No campaign starring then-FC Barcelona star player Diego Armando Maradona. As you can guess, once Maradona's own drug problems became known, humorists had a fucking field day parodying it as "if someone offers you cocaine, just say no. I want it all for me."
The Montana Meth Project (look it up on That Other Wiki) is, despite its name, a fairly successful, multi-medium anti-meth campaign that works on showing the results, frequently given out by former meth users themselves (at least, on a few of the radio ads). Fairly notable due to being started as a privately funded campaign, although the state has taken over some of the funding duties, and for the fact that it started (as the name suggests) in Montana, but has spread to Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, and Wyoming.
Ireland has a serious drunk-driving problem, and has been producing extremely graphic TV ads for years now to combat it. One of the earlier examples, entitled " Could you live with the shame?" has a man involved in a drink-related crash flying through a fence into someone's back garden and killing their son.
There was a PSA that showed this guy calling himself "Snake" who comes off as just some drug dealer. Throughout the PSA, Snake discusses what drugs do to you and what you'll do to get them, and as he does so, Snake's voice distorts and he turns into a snakelike monster. At the end, he adds "Hey, do I look like the kind of guy that would do that to you? YESSSSSSSS!"
Australian Scare 'Em Straight PSAs about drunk driving are no longer "if you do it, you will die," but "if you do it, you'll get arrested," because Australians are more concerned with getting caught by police than, y'know, the whole "dying" thing.
Cracked.com is like one long PSA not to go to Australia. And yeah, that's some nightmare fuel.
To quote Cracked - "Things In Australia That Will Kill You: Everything. No, seriously - everything." "Things In Australia That Will Not Kill You: ... Hugh Jackman seems nice."
NSW's recent speeding campaign similarly disregards the boring "dying" part, and instead points out that it will make people think you have a small penis. Only in Australia...
This surprisingly well-animated PSA by Hanna-Barbera, where a dude wanders through a psychedelic landscape of pills and spliffs... then walks into a closet full of zombies, which grab him and age him 50 years in two seconds while a Scare Chord plays.
One anti-reckless driving ad shown in Ontario in the early 90s showed a family who'd been in a car accident being handled in the emergency room. The mother dies, and the commercial ends with a cut to black followed by the sound of a tween daughter shrieking, "I want mommy!"
Another ad from the same series had a husband who was paralyzed or in a coma following a car accident in a hospital room. His wife is telling him platitudes like "everyone in the other car was OK" while his daughter screams, "Their little girl's dead! I hate you!" Small girls screaming horrible things was the theme of the series.
A (thankfully brief) series of AIDS campaigns in France pictured a woman being, erm, made love to by an enormous spider and a man having sex with a large scorpion. You can see them both here.
This PSA about kitchen safety. The cord that turns into a cobra is kind of scary, but it's the evil, laughing pot that does it for most people.
This PSA about texting while driving was actually so over the top that officials decided not to show it.
Ironically, while the ad is very graphic, unlike in many PSAs cited here, the events are not all that implausible.
That PSA was actually a full length film that they made to show around school, which showed that if you cause an accident: people will spray paint rude words onto your house, your family won't be able to have a social life... Not to mention that not only were the girls texting, they were also drinking alcohol, not much though.
The Australian island of Tasmania were going to air an ad very similar to this; in fact, The Examiner placed this very ad up for people to review, in a bid to slow the record road toll. Then there was a horror day on the roads with (I think) five rashes and eleven fatalities, and the idea was pulled.
In some places (like Kansas), these types of trucks are parked in front of elementary schools. Just in case a 3rd grader was planning to get an abortion, or something.
On the truck's bumper sticker: "Abortion causes breast cancer." Technically, the link is caused by the fact that breast-feeding reduces the chance of breast cancer. Having an abortion raises a pregnant woman's risk of breast cancer, but no more than not becoming pregnant in the first place.
Most of those pictures aren't even of what they claim to be, but show the result of stillbirths and miscarriages, because those images make for a higher grade of nightmare fuel.
Those "Above the Influence" ads are usually tame, but remember the early one with the unattended little girl tugging the raft into the swimming pool, and the voiceover saying, "Just tell her parents you weren't watching her because you were getting stoned. They'll understand"? That one's arguably even worse than an over-the-top illustration of what drugs will actually do to you, because the message is more like, "You Bastard, your natural inclination to choose fun over responsibility IS GOING TO KILL THIS CHILD." Because obviously if you'll do drugs at all, you'll do them anywhere, including while you're babysitting a four-year-old with access to an open pool.
There are similar advertisements in magazines, except a little Lighter and Softer. (Often showing stuff like a kid waiting on the side of the road with the message, "Just tell your parents you didn't pick him up because you were getting stoned. They'll understand." Much better than implying a girl about to drown in the pool.)
Keira Knightly appeared in this PSA for UK Domestic Violence charity Women's Aid. It was only shown in cinemas, because it was considered too upsetting for TV!
The New Zealand road safetyadverts where an intersection is compared to a circus wheel of fortune, with the segments marked off as "near miss," "minor crash," "major crash," and "death" - The wheel is spun when the car in the advert makes a risky entrance to an intersection, by the creepiest man to ever be shown on TV. While the crashes are not graphic, the tinkly circus music and whispering background noises, in conjunction with Mr. Creepy, make the ad horrific.
Another safety advert from New Zealand comments on drunk driving and is pretty impressive because of its simplicity.
One of the less gruesome New Zealand PSAs over the years. There are countless bloody car wrecks that stick in a New Zealander's mind from childhood in both Speeding and Drinking Campaigns. Perhaps the most prominent is a guy packing out his desk at work, then flashing to 'Minor Accident', where his car crashes into another stopped at a pedestrian crossing, killing a woman while her young child stands there watching his now-deceased mother ... *shudder*
Tracks are for trains. (Actually, they kinda held themselves back on that one, at least according to the commenters.)
New Zealand deliberately averted this trope in a drink-driving campaign aimed at the Maori community. The ad showed a boy at a party trying to decide whether to intervene to stop a drunk friend from driving, in a humorous Flight of the Conchords-esque monologue. The state body responsible for the campaign claimed that they had deliberately been trying to avoid shock approaches because research had shown these to be unsuccessful with the target group of young drivers. The commercial went viral and was a huge success, creating at least two internet memes ("I've been internalizing a really complicated situation in my head" and "You know I can't grab your ghost chips!")
Going back further, New Zealand's National Film Unit produced "Such A Stupid Way To Die", a PSA on the dangers of hypothermia in the wilds. When shown in school classrooms, the psychedelic music score and deadpan voiceovers made it unintentionally funny.
A controversial German anti-AIDS spot shows a woman having sex with a man whose face is only revealed at the end: it turns out it's Hitler! The tagline: "AIDS is a mass murderer." Watch the video here, or see the (equally disturbing) print version here.
In the UK, there was an advertisement warning people against using unbooked cabs. The posters are images of a lady crying and pressed up against the window of a cab, locked in. The text accompanying it says "Please, no. Stop, please. Stop. Please stop taking unbooked minicabs." There is a video version of this as well, with a shaky videocamera image of the inside of a dark taxi and you can hear a woman crying.The same text appears on screen.
An anti-heroin PSA from the early '70s showed a wind-up toy monkey while a childlike voice said, "They say that people on heroin have a monkey on their back. Isn't that cute?" Then the camera zoomed in on the monkey's face as it morphed into the face of a live, screaming monkey. It was a scary PSA with a Last Note Nightmare.
In 2010 there was an ad going on the radio in Norway that goes like this (paraphrased), all narrator lines are given in the same creepy monotone:
Narrator: "here are three lessons in what to tell a loved one who drinks and drives. Repeat after me"
Narrator: "you're drunk. You can't drive like this"
Young Woman: "you're drunk. You can't drive like this"
Narrator: "come on, give me those keys"
Young Woman: "come on, give me those keys"
Narrator: "I still love you"
*rasping breath, beeping life support in the background*
Young Woman: "I still love you"
For over twenty years now, South Carolina has been promoting driver's safety with a series of PSAs called "Highways or Dieways: The Choice Is Yours." They're all filmed in intentionally grainy, jerky, cheap-documentary style, showing how in just sixty seconds of bad driving your life can change forever, and again in the sixty minutes after that. One of the most effective subset features parents grieving over their dead children in the back of an ambulance. Here's a pretty typical example.
Not so long ago, in the UK, there was a warning advert against drink driving. It followed round a man in his daily life, who saw the mangled body of a child he had hit in the past everywhere he looked. Yes, it was horrifying.
This PSA for not swimming where you're not supposed to: One order of terrifying imagery, please.
There was an award-winning UK radio ad about why children should always wear seatbelts when traveling in a car. In the style of "Watch with Mother," with nursery rhyme music playing, a woman talks about little Alice and Bob who loved the story of Peter Pan and wanted to be like him. They got their wish when the car crashed on their way to school. Just like Peter Pan, Bob flew (through the windscreen) and Alice "never grew up"! What a cheery little tale!
This ad aired alongside another one aimed at teenagers, with a doctor describing (in far too upbeat a tone) the reconstructive surgery you'll need if you crash face-first through the windscreen during a road accident.
An ad campaign from the early 90's intending to teach young children not to put dangerous objects in their mouth. Of course they explain this so terribly that it tells kids, and I quote "Always ask someone you love before putting something in your mouth." Yeah, that won't get annoying at dinner time when the kid asks permission for each individual bite. Not to mention the Accidental Innuendo involved in a song called "Don'tcha put it in your mouth."
That was either unintentionally disturbing or intentionally disturbing in a very grim way.
Another PSA about the dangers of meth, using a catchy upbeat song describing it as something that will fill you with energy, keep your house clean, and keeps you attentive about your personal hygiene. Needless to say, it was pulled off the air shortly afterwards, because it seemed like an advertisement for Meth.
It seems the entirety of that ad was anti-coffee. "Need energy to clean your house? Do meth! Need to wake up in the morning Do meth! Meth: The better-tasting alternative to coffee."
A lesser-known PSA in the same series featured a cheery song about heroin, accompanied by visuals of an addict injecting themselves and vomiting into a filthy public toilet.
Australian PSAs tend to be made of this trope. In addition to the graphic AIDS and drink-driving PSAs, anti-smoking PSAs frequently show footage of diseased and damaged tissues (blood clots, mouth and lung cancer, and so on), usually taken from autopsied corpses whose previous owners died of causes related to smoking. Also, photographs of damaged organs are shown on the cigarette boxes along with the written health warning, So, yeah..... Australia beat pretty much everywhere else, at least as far as 'scare 'em straight' PSAs go.
A series of carbon monoxide detector ads/PSAs in California serve as yet another example of the "this person forgot to buy a detector and now their child is dead!" variety of Scare 'Em Straight.
A British carbon monoxide PSA shows a young woman coming home, turning on the gas heater and getting ready for bed. Cut to the next morning, showing her pale corpse lying in bed.... This was a deliberate scare campaign created after several cases of carbon monoxide-related deaths of university students in rented accommodation.
A string of anti-obesity campaigns have been dominating the advertisements in New York City that are trying to convince people to cut back on sugar based drinks (soda, sweetened iced tea, etc). At first, the advertisements showed a group of young people eating a ton of sugar packets and then tells the viewers that you wouldn't eat this much sugar in a single day. The ads then became more aggressive like the anti-smoking ads by showing morbidly obese people being confined to a motorized scooter, suffering a heart attack in the hospital, and a person with diabetes whose feet has turned black and has to be amputated.
The ads are backed by the city's mayor, Micheal Bloomberg, who wants to cut the obesity rate in the city (he managed to get trans fat banned in most eateries) and have also wanted to make super sized drinks (which most people use for soda) at eateries illegal. The move plus the ads have caused people to rebel against the entire campaign instead with the most common complaints being that the government doesn't have a right to determine what people can eat and drink.
A UK PSA to discourage speeding which played on the radio went along these lines:
Sound of tires squealing, a crash, then silence.
Young child: "Hit me at 40mph, and there's an 80% chance I'll die. Hit me at 30mph, and there's a 80% chance I'll live."
Sound of tires squealing, a crash, silence... then a child begins to cry loudly.
Voice-over: "Like most victims, Julie knew her killer..."
There many advertisements telling people they can either adopt a pet or donate money to the ad's charity to help animals that were abused. Most of the time, the ads just shows the faces of the dogs or cats looking at the camera with sad eyes to tug at your heartstrings. The more aggressive forms of these ads will show animals in their actual abused state (bruising, starvation, etc.) and one ad even showed someone about to beat a seal to death with a wooden plank with the ad freeze framing right before the moment of impact. Animal cruelty is horrible, but people who can't afford to donate to charity will usually hate being guilt tripped by the aggressive ads and choose to ignore them.
Anti-Cholesterol drug commercials have a pretty long history with this trope. For example, in early-2003, there was a series of commercials that would show otherwise healthy (and downright gorgeous) women suddenly collapsing once their "Cholesterol levels" (I use that in quotations since they were most likely just actresses) were displayed on screen.
Northern Ireland's unsafe driving PSAs are grim. The latest round don't utilise any fancy tricks or catchy tunes, preferring the heartbroken talking-head testimonials of a bereaved mother and father (who break down on screen) or the translated moans of a paraplegic. It'd be funny if it wasn't so traumatic.
In Canada, the War Amps have intermittently aired a number of PS As showing a child-looking robot engaged in energetic, parkour-like play in hazardous, science-fictional environments. They always end the same way: "I am Astar, a robot. I can put my arm back on. You can't, so play safe."
Shelter, a UK-based charity campaigning for better housing, has put out some pretty scary advertising. One ad documented the case of a young mother and her baby killed in a fire because the house wasn't up to safety standards; another showed a family squeezed into a tiny room in "bed and breakfast" accommodation (cheap hostel rooms offered to the homeless), the parents' tempers slowly fraying until one of them is about to hit their child. They also ran a poster campaign with the caption "Like many children, Mary's growing up with furry pets" under a picture of rats crawling over a screaming baby in her crib.
The 'Drinking and driving wrecks lives' campaign was well known for their scare tactics notably the ad that zoomed in on the face of a young woman in a neck brace, who had been run over by an intoxicated driver while paramedics attempted to revive her. The victim was Denise Van Outen and the ad was considered to be too graphic to be shown before the watershed.
A lighthearted example of this was Vince and Larry the Crash Test Dummies, two morons who appeared in a 1980's safety campaign for the U.S. Department of Transportation in order to promote seat belt safety. The general message was, these dimwits are showing you what not to do, and the only reason they survive is because crashing is what dummies do. "You Can Learn A Lot From A Dummy"? Definitely.
The early 1970s "Lonely Waters" British short about the dangers of swimming in the wrong place, memorably narrated by Donald Pleasance as the evil water god. Pleasant dreams!
A series of three ads were once shown in Australian cinemas. They each had a policeman talking about how much it hurts to tell a parent that their child has died. Each one ended with a tip on pool safety for families (e.g ensuring the gate is locked when no-one is swimming). These were often shown before kids films, and many children were frightened by the bleak atmosphere of the ads, even though the target audience was parents.