The different types of public service advertising are usually classified by the issues addressed in the ads, which generally seek to improve public well-being. This advertising frequently focuses on issues that threaten public health and safety, encourage the community participation necessary for a civil and informed society, and announce access portals to public resources. In the U.S. and other advanced nations with developed communication infrastructure, laws generally encourage the granting of access to these channels to those nonprofits that work for the public good. Governments also produce public service announcements to warn of dangers, and advise the public during disasters.
Public service advertising is often disseminated through numerous channels, including various forms of traditional media, as well as electronic media. The welfare of the public is the central theme of virtually all public service advertising. Public welfare issues include personal safety, access to community resources, and encouraging a vigorous level of community participation. This is particularly so in democratic nations. Increasing knowledge among the populace on how to create a safer environment may occur through advertising that illustrates and repeats important warnings.
A sizable portion of public service announcements are aimed at improving public health, and are used in many countries around the world. This type of advertising warns the public of dangers to a person's health, such as smoking cigarettes. They also include advertisements that encourage people to receive preventative screenings for diseases, and many offer toll free phone numbers or website addresses. Other public health announcements warn about sexually transmitted diseases, and still others consist of major advertising campaigns aimed to prevent violent deaths. These include suicide prevention ads that list warning signs of suicidal behavior, and firearm safety campaigns.
Another type of public service advertising seeks to increase disaster preparedness within communities. This is often used in advance of an approaching hurricane, for example, or in areas where tsunamis or earthquakes can be expected to occur at some point in the future. In times of violent events, such as terrorist attacks, this type of advertising may be an important part of dispensing vital advice to citizens on how to access essential resources.
Public service advertising that seeks to improve community participation may be considered an important factor in maintaining a vigorous democratic system of government. These ads may also encourage citizens to pull together in difficult times, such as in those cases when a government's ability to help citizenry is compromised. Reminders to vote through public announcements, encouraging citizen activism in crime prevention, and keeping citizens informed are some other purposes of this type of public service advertising. In the U.S. and other advanced nations, many laws exist that stipulate broadcasters devote a certain amount of their resources to keeping the public informed through public service announcements.