the United States a public service announcement(PSA) is defined
by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a formal and detailed
manner. A PSA is "any announcement (including network) for which
no charge is made and which promotes programs, activities, or services
of federal, state, or local governments (e.g., recruiting, sale
of bonds, etc.) or the programs, activities or services of non-profit
organizations (e.g., United Way, Red Cross blood donations, etc.)
and other announcements regarded as serving community interests,
excluding time signals, routine weather announcements and promotional
came into being with the entry of the United States into World War
II. Radio broadcasters and advertising agencies offered their skills
and facilities toward the war effort and established the War Advertising
Council which became the official homefront propaganda arm of the
Office of War Information. Print, outdoor advertising and especially
radio became the carriers of such messages as "Loose lips sink ships,"
"Keep 'em Rolling" and a variety of exhortations to buy War Bonds.
the end of the war, the practice of volunteering free air time had
become institutionalized as had the renamed Advertising Council,
which now served as a facilitating agency and clearing house for
nationwide campaigns which soon became a familiar part of daily
life. "Smokey the Bear" was invented by the Ad Council to personify
its "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" campaign; "A Mind Is a Terrible
Thing to Waste" raised millions for the United Negro College Fund;
the American Cancer Society's "Fight Cancer with a Checkup and a
Check" raised public awareness as well as funds for research and
ultimate demonstration of the effectiveness of public service announcements
came in 1969. Two years earlier, a federal court upheld the FCC's
application of the Fairness Doctrine to cigarette advertising on
radio and television, and ordered stations to broadcast "a significant
amount of time" for anti-smoking messages.
effectively meant one PSA for every three tobacco commercials. The
PSAs proved so effective that smoking rates began to decline for
the first time in history, the tobacco industry withdrew all cigarette
advertising, and Congress made such advertising illegal after 1971.
Paradoxically, yet in further support of the success of the PSAs,
with the passage of that law the bulk of the anti-smoking messages
disappeared and cigarette consumption rose again for a while. On
balance, however, public health professionals credit the PSAs with
having saved many millions of lives by initiating the decline in
the 1960s and 1970s, as media access became an issue, the Advertising
Council, and to some extent the very concept of public service announcements,
came under criticism as being too narrow in focus. David Paletz
points out in Politics in Public Service Advertising on Television
that campaigns such as "Only You Can Stop Pollution" were seen as
distracting attention from the role of industry in creating demands
for excessive energy and in creating dangerous waste products. Other
campaigns struck critics as too eager to build consensus around
seemingly inconsequential but carefully non-partisan concerns. The
networks sought to distance themselves from the Ad Council, and
to set their own agenda by dealing directly with the organizations
themselves. Local stations were under additional pressure from innumerable
new community-based organizations seeking airtime; many stations
created and produced announcements in an effort to meet local needs
especially since the FCC had come to require that stations report
how many PSAs they presented and at what hour.
In the 1980s, a number of stations long closely held by their founders'
families, went public or changed hands. The resulting debt load,
mounting costs, as well as increased competition from the new media,
all resulted in demands for greater profitability. Most unsold airtime
was devoted to promoting the station or network. Moreover, deregulation
saw government relinquishing the model of trusteeship of a scarce
national resource in favor of a marketplace model. To some extent
offsetting this trend, were growing concerns about the illicit drug
problem. The Advertising Media Partnership for a Drug-free America
("This is your brain..." over a shot of an egg: "This is your brain
on drugs. Any questions?" over a shot of an egg frying), was set
up by a group of media and advertising agency executives, spearheaded
by Capital Cities Broadcasting Company, then completing the take-over
U.S. Department of Transportation PSA
Photo courtesy of the Advertising Council
unprecedented support, the organization mounted the largest public
service campaign ever. Indeed, at its height, with more than S365
million a year worth of print lineage and airtime, it rivaled the
largest advertising campaign. Consistent with contemporary thinking
about the nature of social marketing, the campaign was solidly grounded
in McGuire's paradigm of behavioral change: awareness of a problem
by a number of people will result in a smaller number who undergo
a change of attitude toward the problem; an even smaller number
from this second group will actually change their behavior. During
the first years of the campaign, its research team documented considerable
difference in attitudinal and behavioral change among young people.
Later results were less hopeful as a number of societal factors
changed and media time and space became less readily available.
recent developments included two distinctive strategies. The Entertainment
Industries Council combined high-profile film, television and recording
stars doing network PSAs with depiction efforts: producers, writers
and directors incorporated seat belt use, designated drivers, and
AIDS warnings and anti-drug references in story lines. The other
major development, championed and often carried out by consultants,
was the appearance of the Total Station Project. Stations would
adopt a public service theme, and, often after months of planning
and preparation, coordinate PSAs with station editorials, heavily
promoted public affairs programs and features in the local news
broadcasts. Total Station Projects most frequently are aired during
sweep periods, the months when the station's ratings determine the
next year's commercial time prices.
Charles, and Lawrence Wallack editors. Mass Communication and
Public Health: Complexities and Conflicts. Newbury Park, California:
Sage Publications, 1990.
George. More Than You Want to Know About PSA's: A Guide to Production
and Placement of Effective Public Service Announcements on Radio
and Television. Boston, Massachusetts: National Broadcast Association
for Public Affairs, 1982.
A. Lee. Smoking and Politics: Policy Making and the Federal Bureaucracy.
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1969; 4th edition,
Douglas H., Michael H. Botein and Mark K. Director. Regulation
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Cable and the New Technologies. 2nd ed. St. Paul, Minnesota:
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Albert C. "Perceived Persuasive Effects of Product Commercials and
Public Service Announcements: Third-person Effects in New Domains."
Communication Research (Newbury Park, California), October
Elizabeth Pugzles. "Program Context, Sensation Seeking, and Attention
to Televised Anti-drug Public Service Announcements." Human Communication
Research (New Brunswick, New Jersey), March 1994.
David L., Roberta E. Pearson, and Donald L. Willis. Politics
in Public Service Advertising on Television. New York: Praeger,