And the Academy Award for Best PSA goes to…

If there were an Oscar for PSAs, I’ve found my pick for 2010.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen scores of PSAs that cram enough gore for a Tarantino movie into a single 30-second spot. This week, for the first time in a long while, I saw a road safety PSA that caught my attention but didn’t make me squirm in my seat. No neck-snapping sound effects. No painful screams, traumatic injuries or horrific deaths. Not a single drop of fake blood.

Just love.

The “Embrace Life” PSA, created by the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership (SSRP) in the United Kingdom, veers from the road that too many driving safety PSAs have taken. Instead of using fear tactics or graphic images to shock and frighten viewers into action, this 1:29 video PSA uses images of love and family as persuasion to buckle up. I find this approach tremendously refreshing.

It’s seemingly easy to use a scare tactic with a topic like driving safety. Take, for example, this PSA, a Welsh video which gives a graphic and bloody warning against texting while driving. That particular video was the subject of quite a bit of discussion and controversy–as well as a Platform Magazine article–about the boundaries for graphic images in ads.

But the Welsh PSA was nothing new or original. This seatbelt safety PSA uses the same shock and awe tactic and the same gory images to deliver its message. And so does this one. And this one. And this one.

You get the picture.

At this point, I think we’ve all seen enough violent and horrifying PSAs that we’ve become desensitized to the messages, which makes the “Embrace Life” ad all the more brilliant. It addresses the issue of seatbelt safety from a completely different perspective and in a positive light. Moreover, it doesn’t make me regret bringing leftover spaghetti for lunch.

Daniel Cox, the film’s director, said he “wanted to create a visual metaphor addressing how a single decision in a person’s day can greatly influence both their own and their loved ones’ lives.”

This positive approach has been incredibly successful. Two weeks after the local government campaign PSA was posted on the Internet, it had been viewed more than a million times. As of today, the video has more than 2.6 million views and has been featured by CNN, the Huffington Post and news networks worldwide. SSRP has also received requests for licensing to broadcast the video from television stations in Brazil, Canada, France, the Arabian Gulf and four states in the USA.

To me, this PSA is a fantastic example of the capabilities of the medium. Just because you’re a government agency with the same ol’ message about fastening your seatbelt doesn’t mean you should create a PSA that’s the same as every other seatbelt safety ad.

As PR professionals, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to what’s been done before, and we don’t have to resort to using shock tactics to grab people’s attention. Presenting a worn-out message in a pleasant and original way can be considerably more powerful than using disturbing and negative images to deliver the point.

Besides, leaving your audience feeling warm and fuzzy is infinitely better than leaving them appalled and disgusted. Especially before lunch.

by Caroline Beard

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Filed under Ethics, The Industry

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