Public Service Announcements were invented by middle-class white people to scare the country into thinking anything and everything would kill them without provocation or a moment’s notice. The logic behind the concept is solid: some people are too stupid to keep themselves safe and need to be reminded at regular intervals not to dry their babies in the microwave, after a bath.
The problem is that the people in charge of making these adverts often have no idea what they are talking about; something that will be clear to you if you have ever smoked a marijuana cigarette and were surprised to discover you didn’t wake up in a dockyard the next morning with a needle in your arm and sailor’s penis in your mouth.
These people were in such a damn hurry to wage war on threats never existed, they often completely forget what point they were supposed to be making, or to do basic things like fact-checking or script-editing. That, in and of itself, is fine -it’s always fun watching stupid people fail- but on rare occasions the result of this ill-informed propaganda was a terrifying thirty second advert composed entirely of 100% unadulterated nightmare fuel.
Note: Since this article is focusing on adverts that scared people for no good reason, PSA’s like Donald Pleasance’s turn as an aquatic Grim Reaper aren’t eligible because, while they are undeniably maddening, all the freaky shit can be interpreted metaphorically and not as Donald Pleasance actually drowning kids.
The SRSC Kill a Child by Summoning a Golem
In 1994, the Scottish Road Safety Campaign released an advert subtly titled ‘Cars Kill,’ in which a young boy wearing the bluest jeans early 90’s denim could supply is crossing the road while playing his Game Gear when he is struck and killed by a car. Before the audience has time to even process what they’ve seen, the slogan, ‘look out; cars kill’ flashes up and we’re left with a dead child lying in the middle of a road on an otherwise unspoiled summer day.
Seems pretty straightforward so far, right? The message is blunt, both literally and visually, and there can be no confusion about the SRSC’s stance on crossing the road without checking it’s safe, first. There is one thing I forgot to mention, though, take a look at the advert:
Oh, I get it, so they’ve taken the figurative ‘cars can come out of nowhere’ and changed it to ‘cars will literally come out of fucking nowhere and kill you, before sinking back into the earth to await the next unwitting sacrifice’.
Do you have any idea how fucking terrified I was of roads as a child, because of this? Instead of reminding me to always look both ways and make sure my line of sight was clear, this advert says, ‘listen kid: it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, if that car wants you dead you’re dead’ and, even at five years old, I questioned how I’m supposed to defend myself against an enemy that I can’t see.
This advert is the main reason I mentioned the Donald Pleasance one, earlier. In that advert the shadowy figure that stalks marshlands exists as a metaphorical embodiment of how dangerous it is to play in what is essentially muddy quicksand. In this advert, however, there was no threat on the road, until that stone car rose up out of the ground and mowed down a child that in no way could have seen it coming. That’s like the army preparing soldiers for combat by randomly shooting one of them, every day.
I do have an alternate theory for this advert, by the way, which is that it was paid for by Nintendo to kill the Game Gear; although judging by the unit’s performance it really didn’t need the help.
Breaking News: Heroin is Pretty Fucking Dangerous
I’m not particularly into drugs, if I wanted to feel sleepy and a bit sick I’d listen to a Kesha album. It’s not a political or a moral stance, either, I just prefer alcohol when I want to black out and forget all the awful things I’ve done. That being said, heroin absolutely scares the shit out of me because, despite having heard positive drug stories from first hand sources, I have never, ever heard a positive story about heroin; unless your aim in life was to die under the stairwell of a dis-used factory.
Even to the people who spent the 90’s with their head inside a speaker at Glastonbury, heroin is generally regarded as bad news, so you can imagine my confusion when the Health Education Board for Scotland released their ‘Splitscreen’ ad, showing a group of teenagers in a respectable house, sitting around having a laugh, when one says ‘hey guys, let’s smoke some heroin!’ Have a look for yourself:
The thing that surprised me the most about this advert was that it was released in 2000. Bear in mind that, by then, Trainspotting had pretty much dispelled any pleasant myths that may have been floating around about the life of a smackhead, so it probably wasn’t too likely that many young people were looking forward to a bright future of fishing through their own shit for a condom full of Sweet Lady H.
You probably can’t tell from my literary poker face, but I have several problems with this advert, none more so than the fact the company behind it were so obviously working backwards from the twist ending that they couldn’t come up with any compelling reason why a heroin addict would keep living with his nice middle-class family instead of doing the aforementioned stairwell thing.
Here’s the thing: except maybe in the case of colossal gullibility, no one tries heroin for a laugh. Unlike ‘recreational’ drugs where people get shit-faced and dance for six hours straight to Faithless, you generally don’t get into heroin unless something fucking awful has happened in your life and you’ve decided things can’t get much worse.
The idea a group of completely normal kids would be sitting around the house one day and just decide to start smacking up is insane. It’s a ridiculous exploitation of the fears most decent parents have: that as soon as they take their eyes off their kids they’re fucking everything that moves with fifty needles hanging out every vein in their body. Speaking of parenting strategy, since they make it pretty clear his dad is completely normal in the advert, it seems odd that the boy’s parents are quite happy to let their smack-addled son roll about the bed in his room rather than, you know, try to help him by shipping him off to rehab or something.
Finally, the thing that always pissed me off the most about this advert was the idea that you could only sell a Playstation for twenty quid in the year 2000, when they still retailed for £120. Hell, even today they’re still going for about fifteen quid on eBay.
Turns out heroin addicts aren’t great with finances, who knew?
Deers Don’t Give a Shit About Your Road Safety
This was part of a Safer Scotland country road campaign to encourage people to stop driving like dickheads just because they’re out of the city and there’re no traffic cameras. The spirit of the campaign was commendable, in theory, but in application wires kind of got crossed. I couldn’t get an embed for this one so you’ll have to do some legwork and watch ‘Stag Advert’ here.
If you understandably can’t be arsed I’ll give you a quick rundown: a car is driving along a country road while various hazards like ‘broken fence’ and ‘wet road’ are highlighted, then the car turns a corner to discover a deer standing in the middle of the road for no god damn reason, causing the car to swerve and crash into a tree.
One of my biggest problems with this advert is the ‘you don’t have to be speeding to be going too fast’ tagline, because it’s essentially like saying, ‘you don’t have to be a bad person to get stabbed to death in a nice part of town. Be afraid, always.’
The other issue is the fact that a deer in the road is the kind of anomaly that you can never be prepared for because you can’t expect or anticipate it. It’s like saying, ‘always carry a bucket of sand because you never know when you’re going to be on fire’.
I won’t lie: I know next to nothing about traffic laws, (in fact I used to think that the handbrake in a car was the clutch,) but I would submit that, if the driver in the advert was going too fast, then he was speeding. If you shouldn’t go above a certain speed on a road for any reason, then that should be that roads limit. Otherwise we’d be just as well taking down all the speed limit signs in cities and replacing them with ones that say, ‘if you think you can make it through before the red light then go for it’.
Hit as Many Kids as You Like, Just Don’t Kill Any
This one is pretty famous, so there’s not much need for a preamble, just to refresh your memories:
Brutally vivid adverts like this have become a favourite of awareness campaigns, (and Think! have been at the forefront of the field for several years,) because they think if they can burn a horrible image into your mind you will never forget it, which is true. It just helps that little extra bit when the message you’re putting across is the right one.
I appreciate that the ‘Hit me at forty […] 80% chance I’ll die; hit me at thirty […] 80% chance I’ll live’ is supposed to convey that, in the event of an accident, if you’re at least obeying the speed limit you probably won’t kill anyone. The problem is, the way the statistics have been twisted into that stupid catchphrase changes the message from ‘always obey the speed limit’ to ‘it is absolutely okay to cripple kids’.
At no point does the advert mention that, if you hit a child at thirty miles an hour with several tonnes of steel, they’ll still be all kinds of fucked up. Because it would have ruined their damn slogan, they completely skim over the fact that, in an ideal world, you’ll never be running anyone over in your car, and even the slogan at the end only says, ‘it’s thirty for a reason.’
If this advert was being true to its script then, instead of the girl’s bones resetting and her coming back to life before the advert ends, the car would have hit her again but, instead of killing her, it would have sent her flying through the air and broken both her legs. Or, since I know they like to be artsy and clever with these things, it could have landed her in a wheelchair and showed her wheeling her fucked up legs out of shot.
Canada Hires Eli Roth to Terrify its Workforce into Obedience
I love Canada, and I really hope to move there one day on a permanent basis, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that one of Scotland’s major exports out there is insanity.
To be honest, I find it difficult to be seriously critical of these adverts, because I think they are absolutely hilarious. I get that they were going for the same shock and awe campaign as the dead kid and the fucking ghost car, but the slapstick level of violence on display moves them from the arena of visceral accident to an episode of Bottom. I was just waiting for Rik Mayal to be up a ladder in his pants, seconds before falling onto a railing and bursting his sack.
Also, I’m not sold on the, ‘there really are no accidents’ slogan because it smacks of the modern way of thinking that there should always be someone to blame. It’s got so bad that I’m starting to weigh up the merits of getting a proper job against taking a stroll down to Tesco’s and throwing myself through one of the freezer doors. After all, why would you bother slaving away as a cog in the corporate machine, when you could get rich off of being a butter-fingered buffoon?
Actually, the more I watch this video, (and I have watched it a lot) I’m starting to get the impression that companies are using this to try and scare people into towing the line so they can stop paying out every time someone gets drunk and breaks a customer’s ankles with a palette. The problem there is that people who are constantly scared of fucking up are actually a lot more likely to do it than the guys who joust forklifts in the car park for a laugh.
Think of it like this: you’ve just bought this beautiful commemorative plate of The People’s Princess. Obviously you don’t want to eat off of a dead woman’s face, that would be weird. Truly, the only way to keep this fitting keepsake safe is to put it up on the mantelpiece, pride of place in the centre of the living room, never letting a single soul touch it, right? Well, from my experience –and this might get a little deep here–the more you try to keep something safe, the more likely you are to end up damaging it.
Maybe I can simplify this even more: I’ve never put my shoulder inside another person and it’s in all sorts of bad shape. My cock, on the other hand, is just fine. Coincidence? I doubt it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is just be safe out there.