A complete guide to PSA Videos: How organizations use PSAs to increase awareness, what drives cost & exploring effective PSA video examples & ideas.
What is a PSA Video?
A PSA (Public Service Announcement) is an educational or informational video made to raise the audience's awareness on issues of public interest.
PSA videos generally showcase the problem, explain the gravity of the situation, and provide the audience with a call to action to help rectify the issue.
Why should you use it?
PSAs are created to persuade the public to take a favorable action or change a behavior.
Unlike an explainer, PSA videos do not sell a product or service; they sell a cause. They are generally a long-lasting form of video content that organizations can repurpose for years to come.
PSAs are a powerful way for organizations to:
- Create awareness
- Show magnitude of a problem
- Promote a behavioral change
- Spread information
- Promote an event
- Generate funding from donors
If your organization is mission-driven, a PSA video is a great way to market that cause.
Who should use it?
- Non-profit organizations
- Educational institutions
- Public health organizations
- Government agencies
PSAs have been used effectively dating back to WWII and became a mainstream staple of television commercials in the 1970s.
With the advent of social media and the ease with which an organization can share video content with a wide audience, a PSA video is the simplest way to spread a message quickly and over multiple platforms.
If you are promoting a cause, the single most effective form of marketing you can use to reach your audience, no matter how big or small, is a PSA.
What makes an effective PSA?
The truth is, there are many ways to create a memorable and effective PSA (Great! A non-answer). We'll look at some historical examples and find out what makes a great PSA.
The Perfect Slogan
These hall of fame PSAs don't have a whole lot in common from a production standpoint stylistically, but both reached mainstream mega-popularity thanks to a perfect slogan.
This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any Questions?
Friends don't let friends drive drunk
It's doubtful most PSAs will ever reach the historic level of success that these examples enjoyed, but a powerful or catchy slogan can help any PSA stick with the viewer.
A narrative misdirection can grab the audience's attention, keep them guessing and engaged with your PSA. When the reveal comes, the call to action will be that much more powerful.
Take a look at the Crash Test Dummies PSA.
It's a powerful story about a kid who came back to school, and his hair had turned from black into bright white
The first Crash Test Dummies public service announcement ran in 1985. It begins with two dummies exercising and the dialogue is completely irrelevant to the cause. The PSA brings the misdirection home with a crash and a reveal that only dummies don't buckle up.
This success of this PSA led to 15(!) more years of Crash Test Dummies on your TV screen.
Showing the reality of what may happen if a behavior does not change is a compelling way to raise awareness and enact change through a PSA. Uncomfortable moments and harsh realities create an emotional reaction from the audience. This memorable anti-smoking PSA is a great example.
Another example is this widely praised, recent PSA from Sandy Hook Promise. Their Back-To-School Essentials PSA was created to inform parents of the signs of a violent child.
The PSA gave me chills, the ending is hard to watch, but I remember it.
Your PSA likely won't go to the extremes of some of these more intense topics, but showing the audience the reality of a situation is an effective way to generate emotion and engagement.
Although entertaining, the most successful PSAs usually lean dramatic/powerful. The message can get lost a bit in the shuffle as well as the motivation for the audience to impact change.
For lower-scale issues, such as wasting water or talking in the movie theater, a funny, clever PSA can stick in the audience's head as a reminder to change a behavior.
Informational and Narrative PSAs are the most commonly produced type of PSA videos. These are really effective if you need to spell out the problem and solution or tell a story to an audience who may be unaware. It may lack the creativity of some of the other examples, but the hit rate is much higher.
Here is an example of our work with the Boston Public Health Commission.
I don't know a single person who can sit through this PSA.
That Didn't Happen
I was in elementary school routinely going to D.A.R.E. assemblies and even 10-year-old me knew that this was a stretch. Do not embellish or exaggerate; you'll lose all credibility.
I Want One! What Does it Cost?
Another non-answer, but it varies!
Do you need help creating a concept, storyboarding, scriptwriting? The more time a marketing or production company puts into the pre-production of your PSA, the higher the cost.
Informational PSAs are a good way to save on budget if your organization is able to create the script on its own. This may only require slight tweaks from the production company and save on pre-production hours.
Pre-Production on a PSA generally ranges from $1,000-$4,000
The next variable is the production of the video. Are shoot days required, how many days, how big of a crew is needed? Hiring actors or a voice-over artist?
Shoot days will drive the production budget. Any new footage is going to cost at least a half-day of production.
It is possible to make a PSA on a budget with mostly stock footage from your organization, limiting the scope of the production needed.
Depending on what route you chose, the production of a PSA ranges anywhere from $2,500-$3,500/day.
The final stage to completing your PSA is post-production. Animated PSAs will run the highest tab in post-production (but save on production), while motion graphics, text, and scope of the edit all contribute to the final number. Post-production and editing can range from $1,500-$5,000 for a typical PSA.
In all, the average cost of a PSA ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 in total production costs. Larger national campaigns, like the ones we explored, can come with a much higher price tag.
Distribution, SEO optimization, and advertising will all add to your project costs, so discussing these options beforehand with your marketing team or production company is always a good idea.
In terms of an investment relative to other forms of produced video content, a PSA is a mid-tier priced option for your organization.
For non-profits, educational institutions, public health organizations, and government agencies, there is no better way in our current age to market your cause than with a PSA video. PSAs previously only lived on TV, but now are widely used by thousands of different organizations thanks to the ease in which they can be shared.
A great PSA will help your organization stand out, incite emotion from your audience, and live on to promote your cause for years to come.