(ABC4) – “Only you can prevent forest fires,” “This is your brain on drugs,” “Click it or ticket,” “I learned it by watching you.” These are just a few of the most popular slogans from PSAs over the years. Public service announcements (PSAs) are designed to make the public aware of an issue and how they can make a change to improve.

What exactly makes an effective PSA and what happens when it misses the mark?

The reason we remember certain PSAs very clearly is because it captured our attention. They’re usually made to be clear and easy to understand. The audience immediately understands the issue and are presented with resources or actions they can take to fix the problem.

Most PSAs use emotion to capture their audience’s attention. A good example would be the ASPCA commercials that feature sad animals in cages while Sarah McLachlan’s song “Angel” plays in the background.

Those ASPCA commercials first aired in 2007 and managed to raise $30 million within the first two years.

While some of the most successful PSAs have been anti-smoking campaigns, the most difficult PSAs to make are anti-drug campaigns.

Anti-drug campaigns first began to surge in the 1980s. The campaign backfired though when teens started becoming more curious about the effects of drugs due to the advertisement, even though the advertisement was created to show the negative side effects of drugs.

PSAs started taking a different approach by becoming more tense and graphic. Still, anti-drug campaigns didn’t create the expected effect so the government budget for these types of ads was taken out in 2012.

Looking to the future, many lawmakers want PSAs to focus on gun control. One popular campaign is the Sandy Hook Promise which advertises for stricter control on assault weapons and increasing safety for children in schools, homes, and communities.

Some examples of effective PSAs: