Public service advertising is designed to inform the public on issues that are frequently considered to be in the general best interests of the community at large. Typically, it reflects a political viewpoint, philosophical theory, religious concept or humanitarian notion. It is also commonly referred to as a public service announcement (PSA) or a community service announcement (CSA). The ads are usually broadcast on radio or television, but may also appear in newspapers or magazines. They are prevalent in industrialized countries throughout the world.
PSAs are commonly aimed at altering public attitudes by raising consciousness about particular issues. Health, conservation and safety themes are prevalent in many PSAs. The public service advertising campaigns are often sponsored by trade associations, civic organizations, non-profit institutions or religious groups. The U.S. military, in addition to paid advertising, regularly produces PSAs as part of their recruitment efforts.
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Some PSA ads use celebrity spokespersons to garner attention. Others attempt to appeal to the masses through portraying risks and issues relevant to ordinary men, women and children. A common misconception about PSA work is that it includes political campaign ads, which are actually privately funded.
Most public service advertising involves joint efforts of the private and public sectors. Non-profit groups and government agencies commonly team up with private mass media, promotion and advertising firms to produce spots for radio, television and print media. Most commonly, the non-profit agency creates the message and an advertising firm develops the campaign, polishes it to meet industry standards and plans its distribution, all free of charge. Television and radio stations usually broadcast these ads at no charge, and magazines and newspapers customarily publish them for free as well.
In recent years, it has become commonplace for U.S. television stations to feature public service advertising spots immediately following a broadcast that has focused on an issue considered sensitive and of concern to many members of the general public. These PSA broadcasts generally offer addresses, Web sites and toll-free telephone numbers for information sources. Some of the topics focused on in the PSAs have included rape, child abuse, domestic violence, AIDS and civil rights.
Public service advertising was once a requirement for U.S. radio and television stations to receive their broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The stations agreed to air a predetermined number of PSAs, which they would normally broadcast during off-peak hours to avoid interference with paid advertisements from sponsors. The deregulation of the broadcasting industry in the 1980s eliminated this obligation.