During Power Rangers commercial breaks, I remember seeing Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that featured kids and cartoon characters talking (or rapping) about the “un-coolness” of doing drugs. These PSAs were aimed to teach kids to do the right thing by avoiding drugs, but how strong were they? (PSAs, not drugs.)
I wasn’t clear on why drugs were bad. (What does getting high mean?) A common anti-drug PSA statement I remember was, “Say no to drugs and be cool.” Not exactly convincing. For example, let’s say we’re interested in investing on a Lego Star Wars set and are offered the promise, “Own this Lego play set so you can learn and experience the true nature of the force and become the ultimate Jedi.” Many of our childhood PSAs did not exactly speak to us in a promising way like the Lego Star Wars set did.
When I asked members of Gen Y which PSAs they remember growing up with, the top three were the following:
1. Rachael Leigh Cook – “This Is Your Brain on Heroin” (1998)
This PSA (by Partnership for a Drug Free America) has Rachael Leigh Cook looking hot in her tight clothes and if heroin makes you look this good smashing things, well, let’s smash away. Cook was a good candidate for the PSA because audience members grew up seeing her on-screen modeling and acting. She gave viewers the impression of being a “tough-girl teacher.” The idea was to use her anger to scare the audience into thinking that once you’re on heroin, your mind, body and life will spiral out-of-control.
Although we weren’t really provided information about heroin itself, we were left with a feeling of urgency to smash things.
2. Ninja Turtles – “I’m Not a Chicken, You’re a Turkey” (1991)
Another PSA by Partnership for a Drug Free America. Oh, hey! Ninja Turtles acting as teachers! What? Even more kids? I see the tactic here! Cast eager-to-learn grade-one kids watching Ninja Turtles on a projector and have them connect with pre-teens watching at home. Nice! Now, what’s marijuana?
Though this PSA was memorable for featuring the totally rad Turtles, it’s just too busy. For a 30-second PSA, there was an overload of frames and cast members. This was unfortunate because we were unable to learn why drug dealers are “dorks.”
3. MADD, Canada – “Glasses” (1992)
This PSA by MADD Canada spoke to us using simple visuals and allowed us to imagine family members ending up in a drunk driving scenario. It’s nice because it is to the point.
It effectively showed action, gave reason and consequence without having to play “teacher” (that’s the last thing we want) and had strong SFX throughout.
Honorable mention -” Don’t you put it in your mouth” (1990s)
Every Gen Y member remembers the catchy jingle, the blue puppets who sound like Marge Simpson, and we still sing the tune to this day! This PSA elaborates on the reason we shouldn’t put things in our mouths and also reminds us not to talk to strangers, “always ask someone you love before you put things in your mouth.” It’s fun to follow, and while I am aware that it’s not an anti-drug PSA, it is general enough to crossover to something drug-related.
When it comes to PSAs, we want to be able to connect and be provided firsthand experiences. Simplicity is important (like the MADD PSA), as well as good reasoning, so that we can feel the PSA come alive. The “Don’t You Put It In Your Mouth” PSA is effective because the audience was given the opportunity to participate through song.
We didn’t want to be taught, we wanted to be involved. With that, we will realize why it is very cool to make responsible choices and be as cool as the Power Rangers. It’s morphing time!
Photo credit: Morguefile – http://mrg.bz/U5H2jt