Owned and published by UMHB, The Bells is a biweekly publication. This content was previously published in print on the Opinions page. Opinions expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff or the university.
We’ve all seen the commercials; an anthropomorphic bear telling you to put out campfires, smokers telling the dangers of tobacco. Public service announcements run rampant on television, radio and just about every other form of mass communication. But what we don’t question is whether they’re an appropriate use of government funds.
The Ad Council is a non-profit organization that produces public service announcements for a wide range of non-profits, agencies and even the United States government. The organization was founded in 1941 and soon became a major contributor to World War II efforts, encouraging Americans to enlist, buy war bonds, and support the war effort in many other ways.
Seventy-five years later, the country is in an era where most people have access to a multitude of information in their pockets. So, is it really necessary to spend government funds pumping out ads that most people think are common sense?
Let’s look at the Ad Council’s most notable campaign, Smokey the Bear. The iconic bear is the product of a collaboration between the US Forest Service and the Ad Council. The campaign was created in 1944 to spread awareness about wildfire prevention.
Smokey’s warning that “if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave” is good advice, but one would think campers could use their own common sense when it comes to putting out campfires. If someone needs a cartoon bear to tell them that leaving a roaring fire unattended in the woods is a bad idea, then humanity as a whole probably has bigger problems.
Another reoccurring PSA subject is tobacco awareness, with frequent ads that show the side-effects of smoking. But in 2016, do people really need to be told that filling their lungs with smoke could have negative health effects?
It may be different if campaigns had a noticeable impact, but it’s not clear that they do. According to United Press International, a recent study on hundreds of PSAs worldwide produced mixed results. The study concluded that while anti-smoking campaigns seem to be effective, campaigns warning about the dangers of alcohol fall flat. Ads with additional content – from nutrition to health screenings – were all over the map.
So, if it’s not clear whether or not the ads even have the desired impact, then maybe it’s time to consider shutting them down. After all, it’s not the government’s place to make life decisions for everybody. It’s time we used a little common sense to make our own choices.