June 7, 2016
Brandspeak: Four Essential Steps for Making Memorable PSAs
By Daniel Dryburgh, Account Manager & Global Team Lead

A series of videos about distracted driving might not seem like the most compelling or buzzworthy of topics. And yet, when looking for examples of successful government and non-profit public-service announcements (PSAs), it’s hard to find a better case study than New Zealand Transit Authority’s campaign designed to combat that very issue.

Its social video campaign is now a benchmark for success. One video, simply titled “Hello,” rode all the way to the Reddit front page. Another, featuring narration from local comedian Cori Gonzales, successfully and humorously demonstrated negative effects of marijuana use on driving.

What made these videos a success? Here are four simple ways governments and non-profits can make the most effective social video PSAs.

Emphasize the Human Element

It may seem like a fun idea to make a PSA featuring a cartoon or animal to appeal to certain demographics. However, no matter how great the allure of that may be or what demographic they’re targeting, organizations would be better served emphasizing stories starring people.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon was so effective because it applied a relatable element—sacrificing comfort and announcing social connections—to a worthy cause. Of course, that’s an analytical way of saying that we shared those videos because we found them funny, but the influence of any campaign that raises $220 million toward ALS research cannot be underestimated. Notably, those videos featured human beings, not cartoons or animals.

Plan on Eliciting One Emotion

Whether it is humor, nostalgia or excitement, make sure to establish as early as possible in the campaign process how you want your ideal viewer to feel—and then hit the ground running, maximizing that emotion as much as possible. If your PSA hits one tone perfectly, it is far more likely to be shared than if it tries to communicate too much.

In the case of New Zealand’s distracted driving videos, each served to illicit one thing: laughter. By employing a well-known regional comedian and prioritizing humor over shame, sadness or other emotions normally associated with PSAs, the videos’ messages were simplified and given broader appeal as a result.

Target the Appropriate Audience

Digital ad technology allows you to tailor a video to the right audience better than ever before. Age, household income, geolocation and behavior navigating similar sites are all traits that can be filtered so that you reduce the waste of playing an ad to an irrelevant viewer as much as possible. Consider taking advantage of third-party data providers like DoubleClick and eXelate to target your PSAs to relevant audiences, as is currently becoming the standard for the advertising industry.

Stay Positive

When it comes to social video, sharing is success—and PSAs are no different. As such, avoid the impulse to focus on the negative. An analysis of 2.6 billions shares by Contently found that articles portrayed in a positive context were shared more widely on Pinterest and LinkedIn than those with a neutral or negative tone. Scare campaigns have already been proven to be ineffective with younger audiences, so campaigns emphasizing negative emotions will likely result in diminishing returns. Try to find a positive spin on whatever cause you’re advocating toward, no matter how serious the overall message might be.

Utilizing social video to inform the public or convince them of the consequences of certain actions can be tricky, but there are success stories. New Zealand’s distracted driving social video campaign earned a great deal of popularity despite its competition from the countless cat videos and non-educational videos constantly vying for people’s attention.

By keeping people front and center, clearly highlighting a single emotion, and making technology prominent for demographic targeting, it’s possible your next PSA will go viral and, more importantly, impart your message effectively.

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