Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jason from Eastvale, CA. Jason Wonders, “What is the difference of a PSA and a commercial?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jason!
"And now a word from our sponsors…" Those are words that older adults might recognize, but younger readers might never have heard. They used to come from the mouths of television show hosts right before a program would pause for a commercial break.
Today, television shows get interrupted for commercials without warning. We're simply used to watching our favorite shows in bits and pieces with several minutes of commercials for movies, candy, and breakfast cereals thrown in at regular intervals.
Occasionally, though, you'll see what looks like a commercial, but it's not advertising any particular product. Instead, its message seems to be raising public awareness of a particular social issue or health concern. What are we talking about? Public service announcements, of course!
Public service announcements, or PSAs, have been around since the Advertising Council was formed as the United States was entering World War II. The "Ad Council," as it's often called, originally consisted of radio broadcasters and advertising agencies that collaborated to create messages to support the war effort. For example, their "Loose lips sink ships" campaign encouraged people not to share information about military activities.
As their name implies, PSAs are intended to promote the programs, activities, or services of federal, state, or local governments or non-profit organizations. The messages conveyed by PSAs can be as different as the organizations that develop them.
You've probably seen or read PSAs directed at raising awareness about issues such as the dangers of smoking, the threat posed by drug use, the importance of education, and the need for safety when traveling in vehicles. PSAs can be seen on television, heard on the radio, and read in magazines and newspapers.
Regulations require most mass media outlets to donate a certain amount of air time or print space for messages in the public interest. That's what makes PSAs so valuable in reaching a mass audience with a message in the public interest. With free air time, the cost of producing PSAs can be kept low while still achieving a big impact for the public good.
Whether you want to create awareness, provide information, influence behaviors, or stress the importance of an issue, PSAs are a good way to reach a large audience at a minimum cost. Today, the "Ad Council" is still an important organization in producing and promoting nationwide campaigns.
You've probably seen some of the "Ad Council" campaigns in the past. "Smokey the Bear" was an "Ad Council" creation as part of its "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" campaign. "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste" was the slogan that helped raise millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund.
The most-recognized PSA of all-time, though, featured only 15 words, an egg, and a frying pan. Can you repeat the 15 words of this famous anti-drug campaign? "This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" If you've ever seen that PSA on television, then you know the impact PSAs can have!