Copywriting under the influence in public service ads (a bureaucratic obsession with catch phrases).

February 10, 2015


Successful yes but it created a virus…

Public service campaigns authorized by state or local governments tend to veer quickly into the slow-witted lane, especially when they pertain to driving safety. I do not mean this is to be a complete admonishment. Often these campaigns are poorly funded and run by bureaucrats, limiting an agency’s creativity or, more likely, open-mindedness to an agency’s creative solutions.

Despite inherently dramatic stories and the public good being served, in the realm of public awareness advertising one has to moderate creative expectations. After all, these are the same sort of clients who run the DMV and Passport Services. Playing to the lowest common denominator is what these offices are all about. Repetition of a message’s main point is far more important to these practitioners than high concept.

The perfect example of what I’m referring to is the Click It or Ticket campaign, which, to its credit, gets its message across succinctly. The myriad executions of this campaign hardly matter (they are mostly Z-grade crap) but that line is a zinger. So catchy! I am sure this refrain has saved lives. When I was a kid few people actually wore their seatbelts. Now everyone does. Case closed.

My beef comes with the numerous other civic campaigns that blatantly and poorly rip this formula off, hammering home a theme line that isn’t as good, expecting the same results. Like this hodgepodge of off rhyme and alliteration:

Buzzed. Busted. Broke. Buzzed Driving is Drunk driving.

Why not just go with Think Before You Drink (and Drive) and be done with it? I’m sure there’s some tax paid research suggesting kids don’t perceive a buzz to be the same as being drunk but that’s where the word “think” comes in. You don’t need a different campaign and idiotic tagline.

Here’s a relatively new ditty, about changing area codes:

When in doubt dial it out!

In fairness, I love the It Can Wait campaign against texting and driving.


So much so I wrote about it here. Why is another line needed? Yet here are 31 ridiculous and terrible candidates. My favorite:

Don’t drive inTEXTicated

Yet, I can just here the droning in City Hall. “We need a rhyme! We need our Click It or Ticket!” Feeble marketing types, of which grow in local government like mildew, love simple formulas.

Next time you see or hear a public service spot funded by your government listen for the tag line. It’s bound to be guilty of copywriting under the influence.


One Response to “Copywriting under the influence in public service ads (a bureaucratic obsession with catch phrases).”

  1. elijahpme said

    Friends don’t let friends be hacks.

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