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Man with megaphone: public service announcements

Make Good Things Happen with Public Service Announcements and Automated TV

April 11th, 2017   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas   ||    No Comments

Concerned about health? Want to do more for the environment? Is safety at the front of your mind? Well, public service announcements (PSAs) have you covered. PSAs on these topics—and many more—are available from the Ad Council’s PSA Central, a nonprofit that produces and distributes them to television stations.

The value of PSAs on TV is huge. For one thing, television is a proven way to change behavior. Studies have documented the effect of programming on everyone from toddlers to teens and adults, while commercial advertisers can document lifts in awareness, consideration, and/or purchases that result from ad campaigns. It makes sense that PSAs would be equally compelling.

For-Profit Technique, Nonprofit Cause

Since 2013, Nielsen has collaborated with the Ad Council on a pro bono basis to help test and maximize the impact of PSAs. In fact, its Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience unit uses brain-scanning techniques to determine the emotional impact of spots. This is important work because—with consumer attention so fragmented—it can be increasingly difficult for any particular message to break through. The public does tend to view PSAs as highly credible, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

Mazars Ledger reports broadcast stations donated more than $2 billion of free airtime for PSAs in 2014. Television is the most sought-after medium for PSAs because it has both the most extensive reach and ability to target specific audiences.

Typically, a TV station determines which PSAs to broadcast based on its understanding of the community, according to PSA Research. It also will try to show PSAs at appropriate times. Adult-oriented topics like drug or alcohol abuse usually run late at night, while more general subjects, such as fire prevention, might run throughout the day.

A Plug for Programmatic

Timing and placement are where automated TV buying can make a difference. PSA Research conducted a study of 25 public service announcements and found they reached 20 to 45 million households on average. Those are huge numbers, but there’s no way of knowing how many of those households were part of the intended audience. If the announcement was about the dangers of lead poisoning in children, for instance, the target was likely households with children. But perhaps only half of those 20 million households might actually have kids.

A station that had access to a programmatic platform could have delivered that PSA about lead safety only to homes with children, while showing a more adult-oriented announcement to homes without children. There’s a double advantage for station groups: It’s doing a better job serving the community and providing announcements that are of higher interest to viewers.

This is especially important because the majority of PSAs air during the best parts of the day: early morning and the first half of the late evening, according to PSA Research, citing Nielsen SpotTrac data. These are the time periods that station groups want to make the most of, even when it comes to these no-cost spots.

How Automated Buying Can Help

Organizations that air PSAs can benefit from automated buying as well. ACEP recommends that organizations determine how many people saw their PSA in order to decide whether it makes sense to do another—but while they suggest sending out postcards to stations or calling the stations’ directors of public service, a programmatic platform could quickly provide this same information in a report.

When the goal is to provide an important message to the public, PSAs on TV play a crucial role. The next step in this process will be making sure that the right PSA goes out to the appropriate households in the area.

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