afaqs!

POV: Are public service ads effective?

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | March 30, 2012
Are public service campaigns in India high on talk but low on delivery? Are they losing their appeal, with a more cynical, highly aware and defiant audience? afaqs! finds out.

Anil Nair
Chief executive officer, Law & Kenneth

Anil Nair

Lynn de Souza

Kiran Khalap

Priti Nair

No. Very few public service campaigns hit the bull's eye here in India. The reasons include the relevance (or lack of it) of the cause itself. For many, it is simply a category relevant only in December - for award entries. It is a more showcase of craft and cleverness than an attempt to bring about genuine behavioural change.

I believe in the potent cocktail of 'power of media' and 'creativity' and what it can deliver. We are blessed with this weapon that can positively impact the society that we live in. Through ideas, we can drive behavioural changes to change lives forever. Good examples are Balbir Pasha (AIDS) and Ring the Bell (against domestic violence). These are fantastic ideas, which have achieved great results. They all have one thing in common: a sincere desire to make a lasting impact with breakthrough ideas.

Lynn de Souza
Chairman and chief executive officer, Lintas Media Group

In this interactive media age, where user generated content is free and abundant, public service ads are mostly a waste of time and money. Creative people use this convenient plank to win awards, without the message often reaching the intended target or having any real, on-ground impact.

More can be achieved by brands using a social cause platform - for instance, Tata Tea on corruption, Lifebuoy on hygiene - than by ads created for fake NGOs, which are seen by only those who create them and judge them for an award. Most of the really successful causes and charities don't bother to advertise. CRY and PETA, for instance, raise funds and generate awareness through social and direct media and powerful editorial campaigns.

Kiran Khalap
Co-founder, chlorophyll

No, they are not effective. I refer specifically to advertising, not to all public service communication. The reason is simple: for the first time, people are choosing causes. It is not the other way around. And the biggest facilitator is the internet. Individuals can choose to belong to causes and tribes built around causes than respond to ads, however well crafted (though some like the Each One, Teach One campaign are truly inspiring). Secondly, the basics of an Information, Education and Communication campaign demand that awareness be followed by ground-level activity that encourages behaviour change, through rewards or punishment. The polio campaign is backed by reward - a healthy child. The 'Don't Drink and Drive' campaign is backed by arrest.

Priti Nair
Co-founder, Curry-Nation

A public service campaign cannot work unless it is implemented on the ground as well. Most of the public service campaigns don't get the production media and financial support they need. So you do not consistently see the solidity of the communication over a period of time.

Then, of course, is the heard-to-death crib - that the advertising fraternity does not spend enough time and effort to do pro bono real work for this. We run around and find clients only during the awards season. This is sad. If large agencies decide to take up one issue and own it every year, I am sure we will not only get great work but also really effective stuff.

There have been effective campaigns - pulse polio is one, Balbir Pasha for AIDS/HIV is another, as is the fabulous railway crossing innovation by Final Mile. The reason is that these didn't stop at communication. There was actual implementation.

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