The advertising techniques used to promote commercial goods and services can be used to inform, educate and motivate the public about non-commercial issues, such as HIV/AIDS, political ideology, energy conservation and deforestation.
Advertising, in its non-commercial guise, is a powerful educational tool capable of reaching and motivating large audiences. “Advertising justifies its existence when used in the public interest – it is much too powerful a tool to use solely for commercial purposes.” Attributed to Howard Gossage by David Ogilvy.
Public service advertising, non-commercial advertising, public interest advertising, cause marketing, and social marketing are different terms for (or aspects of) the use of sophisticated advertising and marketing communications techniques (generally associated with commercial enterprise) on behalf of non-commercial, public interest issues and initiatives.
In the United States, the granting of television and radio licenses by the FCC is contingent upon the station broadcasting a certain amount of public service advertising. To meet these requirements, many broadcast stations in America air the bulk of their required public service announcements during the late night or early morning when the smallest percentage of viewers are watching, leaving more day and prime time commercial slots available for high-paying advertisers.
Public service advertising reached its height during World War I and World War II under the direction of more than one government. During WWII President Roosevelt commissioned the creation of The War Advertising Council (now known as the Ad Council) which is the nation’s largest developer of PSA campaigns on behalf of government agencies and non-profit organizations, including the longest-running PSA campaign, Smokey Bear.