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10 PSA Examples: Why Public Service Announcements Work (Or Don't)

Updated: Jun 19

Public service announcements (PSAs) have long been a powerful tool for raising awareness about important social issues. These short, impactful messages aim to educate the public and inspire action.

However, not all PSAs achieve their intended effect. In this article, we'll explore 10 examples of PSAs—5 that hit the mark and 5 that miss the mark—analyzing why they either worked or fell short.

Here are 10 recognizable PSA examples:

For each public service announcement example listed above, we'll evaluate the creative approach (concept, clarity, tone, etc.), technical execution (production value, technique, etc.), and audience engagement (media coverage, viewership, awards, etc.)

Before we dive into the list... If you're looking for a production company to produce a PSA or social impact campaign, Good Pictures can help. Our world-class team will help you produce an impactful public service announcement that truly resonates with your audience. Our PSAs have garnered millions of organic views, earned media with top publications, and received multiple awards.

Contact Good Pictures or visit our public service announcement production page for more information about our PSA production services.

Alright, let's walk through some PSA examples.

1. "Assume That I Can"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

This PSA, featuring model and actor Madison Tevlin, challenges unhelpful assumptions about people with Down syndrome—showcasing the power of a public service announcement narrative that celebrates ability, assumes potential, and practices inclusion. In the PSA, Madison's to-camera narration walks through various scenarios from daily life for a person with Down syndrome, while well-produced reenactments cheekily bring these scenarios to life. The 90-sec PSA spot takes us by the hand and pulls no punches, leaving us with a crystal clear call-to-action: "Assume That I Can."

  • Creative Approach: This is a scripted PSA example. Fun, funny, and high energy. Boldly critiques unhelpful stereotypes, and then visualizes more accurate and helpful ways to view and support people with Down syndrome. Highlights abilities and potential, rather than limitations.

  • Technical Execution: Excellent production value across the board—writing, directing, cinematography, editing, and acting. Dynamic visuals that invite the viewer in, and a message that quickly brings them up to speed. Resonates emotionally without relying on sadness as a persuasion tool.

  • Audience Engagement: Published on platforms including YouTube and TikTok. Received overwhelmingly positive press from various media outlets. Viewers praised the PSA for its exceptional quality—including its educational, relatable, and inspirational messaging.

2. "This Is Your Brain On Drugs"

🚫 Missed the Mark 🚫

While iconic, this PSA is an example of over-the-top dramatization and hasn't aged well. The infamous egg-in-frying-pan metaphor is memorable but lacks the depth and relatability needed to effectively convey the dangers of drug use to modern audiences.

  • Creative Approach: This is a scripted PSA example. Overly simplistic and fear-mongering, which can alienate the target audience.

  • Technical Execution: Basic approach to both story and production that fails to engage viewers beyond the initial shock value.

  • Audience Engagement: Widely broadcast, but not effective in changing long-term behaviors. A PSA that's often parodied and not taken seriously by the target audience.

3. "Love Has No Labels"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

A viral campaign from the Ad Council in 2015 brilliantly addresses societal biases and promotes inclusivity. This PSA example features a live event where pairs of people are shown behind a giant X-ray screen, displaying only their skeletons. When people step out from behind the screen—couples, friends, colleagues—the message becomes clear: "Love has no labels."

  • Creative Approach: This is an unscripted social experiment PSA example. Designed to draw questions from a live audience before delivering an unexpected and emotional reveal—punctuating the PSA's unifying message.

  • Technical Execution: Ad Council's high-quality, live-event approach to this PSA intentionally features a diverse range of people, both on stage and in the audience. The X-Ray screen is a clever mechanism for building curiosity and ultimately driving home the message. Filming with a live audience brings additional connection and warmth to the story.

  • Audience Engagement: Leveraged social media for viral reach and engagement, receiving widespread media coverage and many millions of views and shares.

4. "Gopher Cakes"

🚫 Missed the Mark 🚫

This PSA example from The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports aimed to encourage more physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, its parody approach resulted in an overly simplistic, shaming, and counterproductive message. Additionally, the PSA's focus on food consumption, rather than sedentary behavior, further dilutes the intended message: "Get up. Get out."

  • Creative Approach: This is a scripted parody-style PSA example. The parody approach intends to make its point by juxtaposing overly-positive commercial messages with damaging commercial products. Unfortunately, in the case of this PSA, the resulting absurdity feels more shaming than encouraging to its target audience.

  • Technical Execution: Both the production value and style effectively mimic processed food commercials from that era (the late 1990s), but the tone's inconsistency with the message dilutes the PSA's impact.

  • Audience Engagement: Generally not taken seriously by its target audience. Featured on the VHS release of Dr. Dolittle.

5. "Back-To-School Essentials"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

This PSA example by Sandy Hook Promise uses an unexpected and heartbreaking twist to address the issue of school shootings. Its parody approach opens with the same content and style as a typical back-to-school commercial. As the story progresses, the PSA's message and tone grow increasingly serious as the horrific reality of a school shooting comes into full focus.

  • Creative Approach: This is a scripted parody-style PSA example. Stylistically, it mimics a typical back-to-school commercial. A shocking and poignant twist leaves a lasting impression and demands viewers' attention.

  • Technical Execution: Excellent production value across the board. The writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and editing expertly navigate a very difficult subject. The contrast between the tone and message walk a delicate line—in this case, effectively delivering a strong emotional impact.

  • Audience Engagement: Won an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial. Many millions of views. Widely shared on social media, gaining significant attention and discussions. A PSA praised for its powerful and important message.

6. "Donate Stuff. Create Jobs."

🚫 Missed the Mark 🚫

This PSA example by Goodwill attempts to illustrate a direct connection between receiving donations and creating employment opportunities. The PSA opens with visuals of a young woman leaving her child at home and walking to work, with a voiceover from Franklin D. Roosevelt stating the importance of employment for all citizens. After the woman walks by various neighbors gathering donations, she arrives at work and receives job training. An end card reads: "Donate stuff. Create jobs."

  • Creative Approach: This is a docu-style scripted PSA example. Scripted, but written and filmed to feel unscripted. This slice-of-life approach attempts to draw a connection between a woman's morning commute to work and her neighbors' donations being partially utilized to help fund her employment opportunities.

  • Technical Execution: The PSA boasts high production value and effectively uses FDR's voiceover to juxtapose a historic address with present realities. However, the docu-style shots and subtle visual story dilute the PSA's clarity and impact. The connection drawn between donations and job opportunities feels a bit weak.

  • Audience Engagement: This PSA was part of a larger campaign in 2015—"Donate stuff. Create jobs."—which Goodwill says was successful in helping to drive donations. This specific PSA example, though, fails to create an impact with viewers.

7. "1 in 6"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

This PSA, sponsored by the NFL and produced by Good Pictures, addresses an alarming statistic about survivors of sexual trauma. By using real, heartfelt stories from survivors, the PSA creates an emotional and impactful narrative that encourages a more inclusive cultural conversation around the topic of supporting survivors.

  • Creative Approach: This is an unscripted social experiment PSA example. The director asked five readers to each read aloud a different account of sexual trauma and then react to what they read, before introducing the reader to the survivor in a series of emotional reveals.

  • Technical Execution: High production value. Genuine surprise from on-camera readers creates a raw and powerful emotionality. The PSA was filmed with multiple cameras to ensure expressions and reactions were properly captured. Choosing to feature stories from a diverse cross-section of people with unique identities and experiences aligns with the PSA's message: "Sexual abuse and assault affects all of us."

  • Audience Engagement: Won a Telly Award. Earned media from top press outlets. Received many millions of views across social media. Reached a wide audience with positive emotional responses from both survivors and the general public.

8. "Meth. We're on it."

🚫 Missed the Mark 🚫

This anti-meth PSA example from South Dakota became notorious for its confusing slogan. Intended to convey urgency and a collective fight against meth use, the tagline "Meth. We're on It." was widely mocked for its ambiguity and unintended implication that the state was using meth. The PSA's mixed messaging undermined the seriousness of the campaign, leading to widespread criticism.

  • Creative Approach: This is a scripted PSA example. The concept is ambiguous and confusing, leading to unintended interpretations.

  • Technical Execution: Decent production value, but overshadowed by the confusing message.

  • Audience Engagement: Widely criticized, leading to negative media coverage and social media backlash.

9. "Like a Girl"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

This PSA example from Always addresses gender stereotypes by exploring what's behind the phrase "like a girl." Featuring girls, boys, women, and men demonstrating and discussing what it means to do something "like a girl," the PSA highlights the potentially negative impact of this stereotype on girls' confidence as they grow up.

  • Creative Approach: This is an unscripted social experiment PSA. Explores the contrast between young girls (unaware of negative gender stereotypes) and an assortment of other people (who have internalized a harmful gender bias). The PSA encourages greater awareness around this bias and reframes a common phrase to empower and inspire.

  • Technical Execution: Excellent production value. The PSA's directing, filming, and editing work in harmony to uplift the essence of the story. High-quality interviews and visuals are both engaging and relatable.

  • Audience Engagement: Example of a PSA that achieved viral status. Widely shared across various social media platforms, and praised for its empowering and important message.

10. "Pee-Wee Herman Anti-Crack"

🚫 Missed the Mark 🚫

This PSA example features Pee-Wee Herman talking about the dangers of crack cocaine in a serious tone, which contrasts sharply with his typically humorous character. The incongruity can distract from the message, making it less effective and potentially confusing.

  • Creative Approach: This is a scripted PSA example. Mismatched tone that contrasts with the character's usual persona.

  • Technical Execution: Basic production value + a sharp incongruity between the character and the message = a heavy-handed and unintentionally comedic PSA. In this case, the straightforward approach does not enhance the message.

  • Audience Engagement: Received mixed reactions—negative reactions from adults, but perhaps taken more seriously by kids.

Because there are just too many effective PSA examples to stop the list at 10, here are a few honorable mentions...

11. [Honorable Mention] "Smoking Kid"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

This PSA features children handing out cigarettes to adults to encourage them to earnestly confront their own smoking habits. Earning free media coverage in 30 countries, some consider this to be one of the world's best anti-smoking campaigns.

12. [Honorable Mention] "NO MORE"

✅ Hit the Mark ✅

This is another incredibly powerful PSA example, produced by the anti-sexual violence organization NO MORE. The PSA aired at Super Bowl XLIX. It's a brilliant, bold concept, based on an actual phone call, and it's executed perfectly. The result is chilling, and inspires viewers to acknowledge a harsh reality for many survivors of domestic violence.

13. [Honorable Mention] "Smokey Bear"

✅ Legend Status ✅

Of course, we can't forget a beloved PSA campaign that's lasted over 80 years, helping us protect our forests and stay safe outdoors. The campaign has seen various evolutions in style and messaging over the years, but here's a more recent PSA example from the campaign—reminding us that our dear friend, Smokey Bear, lives within each of us.

PSAs can be quite powerful when done right, offering a unique way to raise awareness and inspire action on important issues.

Here are some keys for creating a successful PSA:

  • choose a timely and relatable topic

  • ensure your message is clear

  • establish a tone that supports and enhances the message

  • elevate credibility with high production value

  • provide a simple, clear, and relevant call-to-action

  • create a plan for distribution and marketing

By learning from both successful and unsuccessful PSA examples, organizations can position themselves to create PSAs that truly make an impact. Need help writing and/or producing a PSA? Contact Good Pictures—a production company specializing in PSAs—and we'll be happy to help.

Here are some common PSA topics:

  • environmental justice

  • foster care and adoption

  • mental health support

  • suicide prevention

  • racial justice

  • cancer awareness and support

  • food insecurity awareness and support

  • physical, mental, and/or sexual trauma recovery

  • building social connection

  • substance use support

  • disaster preparedness and relief

  • diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives

  • driving safety

  • vaccine education

  • gun safety

  • financial planning

  • veteran support

  • hiring and employment justice

If you're a nonprofit, agency, or brand looking for a production company to partner with on creating a PSA or social impact campaign, Good Pictures can help. Contact us or visit our public service announcement production page for more information about our PSA services.

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