Power of Persuasion: The use of Emotional Appeal in Public Service Announcements

Public Service Announcement

One of the most important forms of communication campaigns is Public Service Announcements (PSA). A PSA is a curated message that is shared with the public to raise awareness about a particular issue. One common goal of PSAs is to provide information, however, PSAs can inspire the public to take action or make a change. Typically, PSAs can be instructional, motivational, or even shocking to evoke emotion and action.

In reference to Anna Warfield’s article on PSA, there are a variety of forms of PSAs, some of which are listed below:

  • Narrative: Engage viewers emotionally through storytelling and create a connection with the message.
  • Animation: Use visuals, characters, and storytelling to communicate important ideas
  • Testimonial: Feature real people sharing personal stories or experiences to create relatability and inspire others
  • Print Ads: Displayed in newspapers, magazines, billboards, and other print media to reach a broad audience.
  • Social Media: Created specifically for online sharing on social media platforms, leveraging the reach and engagement potential of social media users.
  • Educational: Aim to inform and educate about specific issues or topics, often using clear explanations, visuals, and statistics.

Each form of PSA is a great tool to provide powerful and persuasive messages. This is due to the fact that PSA have an innate ability to sway an audience’s view, through the appeal to their emotions. In Dillard and Peck’s (2000) study on Affect and Persuasion, they highlight that  PSAs curate messages that prompt heuristic processing. The term heuristic stems from the Heuristic-Systematic Model created by… that focuses on how people receive and process persuasive messages. Heuristic processing is quick and short and requires less thinking. Therefore people tend to rely on heuristic cues such as the likeability, attractiveness, and expertise of the communicator. In this instance, PSAs tend to be 10-60 seconds long which allows the audience to form opinions in a short amount of time, depending on the visual presentation and credibility of the PSA.


The Ad Council: Seize the Awkward

Now that we have an understanding of PSA and its role, I want to introduce you to The Ad Council. This is an organization that creates a variety of PSA through storytelling to educate, unite and uplift others by “opening hearts, inspiring action, and accelerating change.”

Here is an example of a PSA from the Ad Council’s YouTube channel. Please make sure to watch it only once:

After watching this video, one can understand that the main message is to be the friend that helps. However, multiple facets in this video highlight many stereotypes of depression in different communities and or for different identities. It’s a powerful message but it is short and hard to digest at first watch. However, it can be relatable to most audiences. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to highlight how this PSA utilizes various techniques to persuade its audience to a particular viewpoint. Dillard and Peck hypothesized that the perceived effectiveness of the PSA is positively correlated with attitude toward the issue. Although their findings provided a different result, I do believe that this can be connected with the Ad Council’s PSA. Although the video is a heavy and serious topic, it is likeable because it is talking about a common experience that most youths are facing.

The PSA, We Can Talk About It, utilizes a narrative format that engaged viewers emotionally with the usage of visual tones and stirring music. For example, in the first setting of the video, we see an individual in a dark room with blue tones. When seeing this, you do not have to process that blue associates with sadness. We automatically can make that connection without further information. Additionally, isn’t this relatable? Have you ever experience this? I know I have.

Depressed” by Sander van der Wel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The PSA, We Can Talk About It, utilizes a narrative format that engaged viewers emotionally with the usage of visual tones and stirring music. For example, in the first setting of the video, we see an individual in a dark room with blue tones. When seeing this, you do not have to process that blue associates with sadness. We automatically can make that connection without further information. Additionally, isn’t this relatable? Have you ever experience this? I know I have!

We also see that there are some brighter tones in the next couple settings of the video. Similarly, we see two individuals surrounded by their loved ones, but are still feeling a sense of loneliness and sadness. What this campaign does really well is having few words said but having a great impact on viewers. If you noticed, here are some of the statements that were said:

  • “I don’t know why you are so sad, you have a roof on your head”
  •  “Bro, you gotta stop the damn depression stuff, that’s a white people thing 
  • “Listen to me, in this house men don’t cry.”

I do not know about you, but I have heard of these statements multiple times in my life. Personally, I can relate to the second statement, as a young African American woman, depression is frowned upon in the black community. With that being said, at a first watch, it is easy for a viewer to connect with this message, depending on their experience.

You can infer that this PSA is targeting a younger audience that is engrossed in the social media culture, which edifies toxic positivity. If you are not familiar with this, toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. Here is a video that explains more in detail:

The Ad Council strategically put in constant notifications and messages from social media at the end of the video, which led to the feeling of being overwhelmed. Even though it is a brief moment, this video portrayed this feeling accurately. 


The Ad Council had a good understanding of their target audience which I believe is why they kept this video at a minute maximum. With the excessive use of social media, there have been statistics of an increase of lower attention span. Additionally, a lot of individuals look to social media to escape depression, however, as shown in the video, they are faced with toxic positivity. If this PSA showed up as an ad or post on any social media platform, I believe individuals would take the time to stop and listen. This is because of the relatability of the video, and why not post on a platform where people are using to avoid their feelings?

In the closing of the video, we see people stepping up and talking to the individuals struggling with depression. With the campaign, Seize the Awkward, this highlights that it is okay to talk about things that are uncomfortable. And this is why this video is created, to push people to Seize the Awkward, and talk about it.

As a media company, the Ad Council does a great job keeping consistency in following their mission statement and advocating for mental health. They approach the topic in a way that is relatable and cause an action for change.

I do not know about you, but I am ready to Seize the Awkward and talk about it!


Here are some helpful links for more information

https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/what-is-a-public-service-announcement#:~:text=A%20public%20service%20announcement%2C%20or,action%20or%20make%20a%20change

https://www.adcouncil.org/


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