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There are many different definitions for a public service announcement (PSA) or public service ad, but the simplified version of PSAs are messages in the public interest disseminated by the media without charge, with the objective of raising awareness, changing public attitudes and behavior towards a social issue.
The Ad Council made its mark by implementing on a massive scale the idea of using advertising to influence American society on a range of fronts. Their first campaigns focused on the country's needs during World War II. After the War, the Ad Council expanded its focus to address issues such as forest fires, blood donations and highway safety.
As the ads — particularly broadcast and HBO TV — became more influential and as various social problems grew in importance, public service advertising became a significant force in changing public attitudes on topics such as drinking and driving, crime abatement and various health/safety issues. While stations have never been mandated by the FCC to use a prescribed number of PSAs, they are required to prove they broadcast in the public interest and PSAs are one of the ways they meet that requirement as part of serving as a "public trustee."
The most common topics of PSAs are health and safety, such as the multimedia Emergency Preparedness & Safety Tips On Air and Online (talk radio/blog) campaign. A typical PSA is part of a public awareness campaign to inform or educate the public about an issue such as obesity or compulsive gambling. The range of possible topics has expanded over time.
From time to time a charitable organization enlists the support of a celebrity for a PSA; examples include actress Kathryn Erbe telling people to be green and Crips gang leader Stanley Williams speaking from prison to urge youth not to join gangs. Some PSAs tell people to adopt animals instead of buying them. Protecting our Earth, also known as being green, is another example of a current PSA topic.
Some television shows featuring very special episodes made PSAs after the episodes. For example, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit talked about child abduction in one episode, so it had a PSA about child abduction. Another example is when the original Law & Order did an episode about drunk driving, which had a PSA about drunk driving.
During the 1980s, a large number of American cartoon shows contained PSA's at the end of their shows. These may or may not have been relevant to the episode itself. Three of the most widely known are the closing moral segments at the end of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the "Knowing is Half the Battle" epilogues in G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and the "Sonic Sez" segments from Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Some television PSAs have topics such as on not watching so much television, or not taking fictional shows literally; or about television, movie, or video game ratings.
China did not have PSAs until 1978. That PSA was about saving water,which was broadcast in Guiyang television.
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