Public service advertising

Public service advertising

Public service advertising is the use of commercial advertising techniques for non-commercial purposes (see also propaganda). Typical topics for public service advertising include public health/public safety issues, emergency preparedness instructions, natural resources conservation information, and other topics of broad interest.

Public service advertising campaigns are widespread around the world. Such advertising is generally produced and distributed on a cooperative basis by governmental agencies or nonprofit organizations acting in concert with private advertising and mass media companies. In most cases, the nonprofit provides the programming that is to be advertised, while the participating advertising agency and media companies provide creative services, media planning, and dissemination services on a "pro bono" basis.


One of the best-known forms of public service advertising is that which is broadcast on television. These televised "spot" announcements, known in the USA as public service announcements (PSAs) and in the UK as public information film (PIFs), are often striking in their presentation and occasionally become well-known aspects of popular culture among their audiences. Examples of such well-known public service campaigns are the "Smokey Bear" PSA campaigns produced in the U.S. for the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, the "Fried Egg" campaign produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and the "Crying Indian" PSA dealing with litter in the USA. Other notable campaigns in Europe include the "Charley Says" series in the UK. Other notable examples are the Protect and Survive series of emergency-preparedness PIFs produced during the early 1980s by the BBC for broadcast in the UK before and during nuclear warfare. These films, which contained information on nuclear weapons effects, constructing a fallout shelter, and emergency mortuary practices, among other topics, were widely-known and were featured in commercial films and music recordings of the time, but for obvious reasons were never transmitted.

Other terms

Non-commercial advertising, public service advertising, public interest advertising, issue advertising, cause-related marketing, public education campaigns and social marketing are different terms for (or aspects of) the use of sophisticated marketing communications techniques (generally associated with commercial enterprise) on behalf of non-commercial initiatives.

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