Why there is value in public service for major brands

How public service announcement advertising is changing, as well as how brands are increasingly bringing health and safety into their broader purpose efforts


Making a difference

The desire to achieve meaningful professional outcomes is something Roberts believes is attracting more marketing and advertising professionals to seek opportunities to work on PSAs.

“When my career started a long time ago, I don’t think government campaigns were things young creatives got excited about,” Roberts says. “But more and more, it is a passion for a lot of creative people, because they have real impact on culture. We all want to make work that has significance to it and that people recognise.

“There is real energy that comes about when you know you are doing something that matters and is beneficial and you want it to work. There is an extra level of commitment and care that goes into that work.”

This has certainly been the case for Day, who has also worked on other social impact campaigns including pro-bono initiatives for The Big Issue.

“Personally, I would love to do more stuff like this,” Day says. “It is great working on everything we do but doing stuff that makes a difference is what we are all here for. The idea that you can communicate something that might help somebody is really important.”

It is likely more creatives will find that opportunity, with Roberts noting more and more brands are including community service messaging within their broader communications mix.

“It is not just governmental bodies that do this now,” Roberts says. “More and more, brands have the ability to affect culture, and as long as it aligns with brand values, there really is a place for brands to help with public service as well.”

This trend was notable during the pandemic, when numerous brands stepped up with creative output designed to amplify government messages regarding viral transmission reduction or in support of the vaccination rollout. These included oOh! Media’s ‘Getting back outdoors, it’s worth a shot’ campaign, Virgin Australia’s VA-X & Win’ contest, AAMI’s ‘Vax Up Australia’ campaign, Twitter’s Covid-19 vaccine prompt in support of World Immunisation Week, and Tinder’s in-app its vaccine advocacy initiative.

Read more: 12 examples of brands pushing the vaccination cause

Sustained change

Another opportunity is now emerging for brands to extend their public service engagement through their sustainability agendas, especially in those instances where brands can influence consumers to take actions that will benefit the environment.

“A lot of our clients have very serious sustainability ambitions - everyone is thinking about it,” Roberts says. “You do have to be very, very careful, but as long as there is a genuine commitment and we can back it up, then we can creatively put it out there.”

Communications strategist, Belinda Noble, has taken that thinking one step further by founding Comms Declare, a volunteer organisation of communications professionals dedicated to highlighting greenwashing, deception and spin. Noble has been developing the concept of Comms Declare for more than two years, taking inspiration from similar movements across different industries around the world, such as Doctors for the Environment, and Australian Architects Declare.

“A whole bunch of industries already had a ‘Declare’ or climate movements, but the role of PR and marketing was going very much undiscussed,” she says. “I very much wanted PR and marketing to be a force for good and no longer aiding and abetting these incredibly damaging industries.”

The organisation has well over 300 members, including support from media agency, Alchemy One, and PR firm, The Bravery. It’s set itself a significant goal: To achieve a ban on fossil fuel advertising in Australia. Noble says the group is starting by targeting outdoor advertising by fossil fuel companies with a strategy based on highlighting the negative health outcomes.

“We are starting in some key local government areas and seeing if we can get them to take on the fossil ad ban, and then we are going to build to other areas and other levels of government,” Noble says.

Noble and Comms Declare supporters have been buoyed by the success of similar movements in France, where the government will ban advertising of high emission vehicles from 2028, and the city of Amsterdam, which has banned advertising for fossil fuel products from the subway stations. She has already seen some local success, with Melbourne’s Yarra Council being the first to move to restrict the promotion of fossil fuels on council-run property

“We are trying to make it community led as much as possible, and have people write directly to their councils and their mayors calling for this ban,” Noble says. “And that will spark engagement in those communities which hopefully will go to state and federal levels as well.”

As a public service campaign, Comms Declare strikes a very different note to many others, both public and private sector. But the communications techniques are also rooted in strategies relating to conversations rather than statements.

“You can’t go in and say we are going to take your keys away from your ute,” Noble says. “But we can go in and say air pollution from burning fossil fuels kills 5700 Australians every year, which is more than asbestos - and you wouldn’t run ads for asbestos?

“We really want to recontextualise coal, oil and gas as being dirty and damaging, and I think that can happen now.”

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