Advertisers are terrific at making people want something. It doesn’t matter what the thing is, a marketer will be able to think up a way to make you need it Smeagol style. The old ice to Eskimos trick.

It helps a lot if the product is particularly tasty or addictive. What’s that Colonel Sanders? You want me to buy my own bodyweight in Wicked Wings?

Yes sir.


The tobacco industry has been notoriously bad/good in this regard. Their campaigns through the 20th century, while often either skirting around the truth or completely bulldozing it, were incomparably effective. The tactics they employed made smoking the cool, healthy, mature and enlightened thing to do (as showcased in the terrific documentary, “Thank You For Smoking” – I implore you to check it out).

We now know that this isn’t just untrue, but the complete opposite of the truth. In 1999, the US government finally said, “hang on a minute…” quietly to themselves and decided to take tobacco companies to court, one of the results being the tobacco companies had to “reverse advertise” their products, showing them in all their tarred glory.

Public health campaigns weren’t uncommon at that point, but seeing the effect that the forced advertising of Big Tobacco had on smokers really awakened governments’ and public health organisations’ imaginations on what a decent public health campaign could achieve.

These days some of the best marketing is done by government or non-profit organisations, and this with the aim of discouraging people to do certain things, rather than encouraging people to do something, like eat an inadvisable amount of fried chicken parts.

“Give me some examples”, I hear you demand. Maybe the next government PSA should be about manners.

But I shall indeed:

Speeding: No One Thinks Big Of You (Roads and Transport Authority, Australia)

Australia’s driver safety campaigns are notoriously and brilliantly blunt. From Victoria’s “Drink Drive – Bloody Idiot” to South Australia’s “Don’t Drive Like a Cock”, they catch people’s attention with a frank message – If you don’t drive nicely, we’re going to call you names until you do.

Terrifically primary school. Terrifically engaging.


No campaign has captured this essence quite like New South Wales’ “No One Thinks Big of You” offering of 2007. A young man pulls up to a stoplight. He revs the engine of his hotted up Toyota Corolla Sports hatch. He gives the eyes to a little lady standing on the corner. Then the lass seductively raises her hand, before waving her little pinky finger at him.

Her finger represents what she thinks of his gentleman’s drumstick, you see.

The campaign was not only funny, it hit its mark. Nothing strikes home for a testosterone fuelled youngster like an uncharitable reference to his appendage. Post viewing, around 75 percent of young Australian drivers reported that the ads had encouraged them to comply with speed limits.

Talking Babies for Breastfeeding (Alive and Thrive, Vietnam)

If Funniest Home Videos is anything to go by, there are very strict rules as to what keeps the public entertained. If you’re not showing them something funny, it better be bloody cute.

Alive and Thrive was listening intently to this message, and decided to use one metric tonne of adorable cuteness.

Vietnam has a problem with breastfeeding, in that it doesn’t happen much. Mothers are a touch too inclined to let infant formula, soft foods or even plain water do the work. This has lead to a problem of infant malnutrition.

What better way to get mothers back on the boob train than have the babies ask for it themselves?

The 30 second ad features overdubbed babies talking to each other and their mothers about the benefits of staying on the breast for at least the first 6 months. Its message is well conveyed and easy to understand, and there’s something about learning from talking babies that makes the whole process a lot more fun.

If only I’d know this at University.

The list goes on and on. The anti-sugar (bordering on anti-Coke) PSA “The Real Bears, the American anti-Steroid effort “Don’t Be An Asterisk – current public health and safety campaigns are almost outstripping their corporate counterparts for creativity and effectiveness.

It’s now more obvious than ever that marketing is much more flexible than most give it credit for. It can deliver an important message just as well, if not better, than it can sell a product or service.

So why not try it for your next piece of public health advertising? The population’s vitals may look all the better for it.