Most Ads Want You To Buy, But Here Are 25 Public Interest Ads That Really Pack A Punch

Howard Gossage was not only one of the great ad men of advertising’s Golden Age — the period in the late 1950s and the 1960s that’s now called The Mad Men Era — he was also one of advertising’s greatest critics. An originator of the idea that advertising should create a “conversation” with consumers, Gossage could at the same time create innovative campaigns for airlines, beer makers and oil companies, while also writing essays about the damaging effects advertising has on the public mind.

But as much a part of him deplored the power of advertising, Gossage was an ad man through and through. He believed that ads could be used not only to sell products, but to sell social causes. In fact, Gossage is credited as being the man who came up with the name Earth Day — a “brand name” that has resonated for four decades.

Gossage died in 1969 at the age of 52, but his spirit lives on in the ads below. These 25 public interest ads are some of the best examples of how advertising can pack a punch for the public good, in the Gossage spirit, using powerful images and strong emotional impact to sway opinions about controversial and socially important topics.

Let’s see if they convince you…

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You’ll think twice about littering after this South African ad from the agency TBWAHuntLascaris.

PSA 1

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This German ad by Scholz & Friends reminds us that a species becomes extinct every minute.

PSA 2

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Created by Milwaukee agency Cramer-Krasselt, this ad commissioned by a local police department is sly reminder of the dangers of breaking the speed limit.

PSA 3

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The Beijing ad agnecy Dentsu created this public ashtray, that makes its point pretty clearly.

PSA 4

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Look closely at this anti-animal cruelty ad from Lowe Bull in Cape Town, South Africa. No, that is not something mean to be kicked.

PSA 5

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A Swiss advertising agency, Advico Y&R, decorated airline seat backs in a way that reminds us that ordinary people can be tortured, too.

PSA 6

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This billboard, created by Amélie Company, makes its point smashingly.

PSA 7

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Created by London agency Iris, the right-hand page reads, “THE END. If you smoke, statistically your story will end 15% before it should.”

PSA 8

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India’s Mudra Group makes the dangers of distracted driving very clear.

PSA 9

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If tuna were actually adorable pandas, would you still eat them? Ogilvy & Mather thinks not.

PSA 10

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Thai ad agency BBDO Bangkok lets you know what happens when you drive while sleepy.

PSA 11

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Amnesty International brings the crisis of child soldiers to a Swiss bus stop.

PSA 12

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In addition to being wrong, censorship can be misleading as well, says Memac Ogilvy & Mather, for Reporters Without Borders.

PSA 13

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Paris agency Publicis Conseil reminds us that racial discrimination starts early.

PSA 14

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This jarring juxtaposition by Australian agency Clemenger BBDO makes homelessness something that suddenly, we all can understand.

PSA 15

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An elegant point about wildlife conservation by DDB&CO.

PSA 16

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Candy with toys inside, like Kinder eggs, has been banned in the U.S. for years in the interests of child safety, Toronto’s Grey agency reminds us. Assault rifles, on the other hand…

PSA 17

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There’s difference between “liking” a Facebook post and actually doing something, Publicis agency bluntly reminds us.

PSA 18

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Another Chinese agency, Lem, provides this constant reminder that breast massage is the best way to check for cancerous tumors. Too bad nobody uses a mouse pad anymore.

PSA 19

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The agency behind this blunt billboard is uncertain, but it makes its point. Pollution kills.

PSA 20

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Euro RSCG wants you to quit smoking — and use this brand of nicotine gum to do it.

PSA 21

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Saatchi & Saatchi found this clever way of demonstrating the effects of deforestation.

PSA 22

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TBWA-Santiago, an agency in the Philippines, shows what you can accomplish by adopting a rescue pet.

PSA 23

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If you weren’t worried about your child’s online activities already, you are now, thanks to French agency Herezie.

PSA 24

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This Russian ad by Red Pepper makes a chilling point about distracted driving.

PSA 25

The featured image, up top, by the way, is a Brazilian ad by Terremoto Propaganda that should make you think twice about drinking and driving, though we hope you already do.