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The UK is known as a country that takes a strong stand on social issues, like smoking, over speeding, alcohol and domestic violence, among other. From a general viewpoint, it can be argued that these perspectives lend an angle of seriousness and urgency when used in the public social announcements, thus calling the masses to act. In the end, it can be appreciated that these campaigns impact the masses positively by promoting appropriate behaviours, depending on the issue being addressed. These messages are seen to use provocative and, in some cases, even offensive subjects in order to get the audience’s attention. The current paper discusses two cases of PSA’s in the UK to show the effects of such campaigns.
The Road Safety Campaign
One of the basic often non-academic lessons in most schools is related to road safety, where children are taught about crossing the roads and using pedestrian lanes. These initiatives are aimed at ensuring that the roads are safe for school children at all times, since they cannot be supervised by their parents or teachers all the time (Weinreich 2010). One road safety campaign in the UK presented a case of children playing with the white lines and N, as well as L markings on the road (Lehmann 2005). It can be appreciated that the issue of road safety is a very critical one and that students need to learn how to use the road and respect other road users. However, this campaign shows children being run over by a vehicle. The graphics are presented with clarity that some children should not be expected to cross roads on their own for a while (Andreasen 2005).
This campaign can be considered to have been effective in the context that it made the children fear the roads. As such, they are unlikely to play on the road and get hit by a car. Considering that this is the aim of the campaign, it should be lauded for how much it affects the public conscience (Breen 2004). There is, however, another impact that such a campaign has. While there are those who will interpret it as a warning on the outcomes of playing on the road, a lot of parents and children are likely to consider it an indication of the lack of safety on the road. The parents are more likely to be strict about allowing their children to cross roads on their own, just as the children are likely to stay away from roads, unless accompanied by an adult. This would, in turn, limit the ability of many children to get to schools, churches, playgrounds and shops in the absence of a grown up. In such a case, the intention is noble and so is the outcome, but there also are other negative effects that the campaign has.
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The Tobacco Campaign
The UK has also been globally seen as the go to when it comes to hard hitting anti smoking campaigns over the past few years. Since the connection between tobacco and cancer was made and confirmed, the PSA’s on quitting smoking have gone from verbal warnings to graphic representations of damaged organs, including heart, lungs, teeth and even the brain. All these representations are considerably traumatizing and may be as well effective in terms of keeping the smokers away from the cigarettes. It must be appreciated that smoking is not something that you scare with, but the task is to help the victim of smoking to quit voluntarily. It is a serious vice and not a voluntary indulgence, especially for those to whom smoking has become a habit (Lee & Kotler 2011). This means that the use of such hard hitting graphics would only repulse the non smokers who are not really affected, as opposed to helping the smokers to actually quit. A good number of people get cancers without ever smoking and assuming that even these cases can be attributed to the smokers in the society, and then maybe it will be a great idea to focus on helping them quit. The provocative campaigns are certainly not doing this if the statistics are anything to go by.
A PSA’s Role in the Society
PSA’s are aimed at generating positive discussions that should culminate with respect to the issue in question. This means that the campaign on road safety should be aimed at making the roads safe, rather than presenting them as death zones, and scaring the parents and children. A public service announcement should be relevant and positive, especially in cases where children are involved (Sinclair & Irani 2005). For example, in order to ensure road safety the authorities could stage a campaign in which drivers are warned against over speeding near schools and playgrounds, while children are also encouraged to cross the roads at appropriate locations, like pedestrian crossings unless in the company of an adult. Either of these would ensure that the children are safe and able to move around without supervision. These PSA’s are instead instilling fear in children and parents, thus acting like domestic terrorists, funded by the taxpayers (Knox & Gruar 2007).
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The tobacco campaign in this case can also be considered as irrelevant, taking into account that it actually does nothing for the smoker who needs to be rescued from the habit. It has been noted in the US that subtle campaigns like donating a day’s cigarette money to scholarship funds and other charitable causes have a greater impact, as they do not simply aim at scaring a smoker, but giving him/her a chance to taste the other side for a day (Cheng, Kotler & Lee 2009). The provocative campaigns seem to be condemning the smoker and end up alienating them instead of embracing and helping them. It is matters like this that encourage criticism on the level of government expenditure in as far as the PSA’s are concerned.
It is clear that PSA’s in the UK are specifically shallow in their conception. They do deliver the intended message at face value, thus failing to account for all the possible outcomes of the message like children developing psychological challenges after seeing fellow children being run over in the campaigns, or smokers disregarding any health warnings on smoking after concluding that the health department is actually condemning them for their habit rather than seeking to help them (Bryson 2011). The PSA’s are expected to be indiscriminate but, in most cases, when they take on that provocative tine they tend to demonize some people, thus alienating them instead of helping them out, as it is intended in the long term objective of the campaign (Thaler & Helmig 2013).
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Social issues are often very important and, thus, require to be addressed in a manner that will not only generate conversations and inspire corrective action amongst the citizens. However, there is a need to balance out the costs and benefits of these advertising campaigns, as they tend to create more problems than provide solutions. The fact that there is a need to come out strongly against a given habit does not mean that those practicing it should be alienated. Rather they should be offered support to quit in a way that is sustainable, as it should be voluntary. This means that the UK needs to stop using over provocative adverts that offend the masses, rather than helping them through serious social challenges.
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