Public service announcements have changed quite a bit since I was a kid in the 80’s. Back then they mostly consisted of some cartoon character (GI Joe was huge on this, as you probably remember) telling me to stay off drugs and in school, but now there seems to be a race towards the extreme when it comes to how shocking ad agencies can make a PSA. The goal is to make a lasting memory and agencies seem to be doing this by either horrifying us or grossing us out (often both). Here are some of the most shocking PSA’s of all time:
The Montana Meth Project
The Montana Meth Project consists of print and outdoor advertising as well as commercial spots directed by well known directors such as Tony Kaye (American History X), Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). The group was founded by billionaire Thomas Siebel and has had great success. Since the campaign was started teen meth use is down 45% and adult meth use has fallen by 72%. Other states with meth problems have begun running the ads, including Arizona and Illinois.
Directed by Tony Kaye
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Serve Statutory Rape Ads
Statutory rape was on the rise in Milwaukee so the United Way commissioned ads with young girls heads on the bodies of adult women and the slogan “When you look at a young girl as something more you need help”. After a bit of controversy the ads were pulled.
Belgium Anti-Foie Gras Campaign
This ad was actually intended to run in a Belgian tube station, but was rejected as too shocking. Foie gras is an especially popular Christmas food in Belgium.
StopLandMines.org “Soccer Mom”
If there were land mines here, would you stand for them anywhere?
The Faster You Go, The Bigger The Mess
Not as graphically shocking as some of the others here, but the voice over is quite devastating. This campaign is from New Zealand.
Emma Thompson stars in this PSA targetting sex slavery entitled “I Am Elena”. Thompson narrates in two different voices, an innocent girl, and an abused prostitute (who turn out to be one and the same). Thompson has been involved with this cause for years through the Helen Bamber Foundation.
Ontario WSIB Workplace Safety Ads
The Canadian Workplace Safety and Insurance Board created these intense, visceral ads to combat what they felt was a general lack of knowledge of workplace safety hazards. Five Canadians die every day in a work related accident, and the WSIB felt it was an issue receiving little attention. They may have gone overboard with this series of ads however, with many people complaining that they were inappropriate for small children. Initially the ads were only going to be run in the evening, but they were expanded and shown during such events as nationally televised hockey games. These ads are some of the most gut wrenching you’ll ever see mostly because of the high level of realism.