Posts Tagged ‘PSA’

Digital Story: The PSA


In my previous post, I examined video’s unique storytelling potential. Now I’d like to focus on specific variations of digital narratives, beginning with the public service announcement (PSA). A PSA is a short 30-60 second commercial that informs the audience about a public concern, while also triggering an emotional reaction (ideally leading to action).  In the United States, the Ad Council is perhaps the most famous producer of such content.  To demonstrate how a student might think about translating raw information into a story, I’ve tried to outline the creative process here. In this case, I tackle the danger of Hypertension (High Blood Pressure).

Step 1: Do the research.

Ex: -About 1 in every 4 American adults has high blood pressure, also called hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart and kidney diseases, stroke, and heart failure.
-People are most likely to develop Hypertension when they are over the age of 35, overweight or obese, not active, drink too much alcohol, eat too many fatty or salty foods, excessively stressed.
-High blood pressure is especially dangerous because it often gives no warning signs or symptoms.
-You can find out if you have high blood pressure by having your blood pressure checked regularly.


Step 2: What message do you want to get across? Try to articulate it in a single sentence.

Ex: High blood pressure is a silent killer.

Step 3: Brainstorm general ideas, taking into consideration style (music video, documentary, interview-based) and tone (comedic, dramatic, shocking).

Ex: We see a man go about his everyday life while hearing the sound effect of a ticking time bomb. A narrator provides some information about blood pressure as we see the man eating breakfast, going to work, greeting his children, cleaning his house: he’s living a normal life. However, whenever he eats salty foods or drinks caffeine or decides not to work out, the ticking gets faster and faster. This builds up until the end, when the timer suddenly ‘Dings’ and we cut to a black screen. Text: “High blood pressure causes heart diseases and strokes without any warning. Take the time to check it, before time is up.”

Okay, it’s a little morbid, but I think it would get the message across.

Step 4: The next step is to write a working script, exactly what we see on the screen. You don’t have to use screenwriting lingo, just write cinematically–so only things the audience will see and hear. This might be a sample:

Ex: Scene 1: An older man, about 40 years old, wakes up in his bed. We hear the noise of a single tick while soft orchestra music plays in the background. The man glances at the treadmill in the corner of his room. It’s dusty and dirty. We hear another tick. He hesitates, as if he’s going to use it, and decides to shower instead. Again, another ticking noise.  The man sits down at the kitchen table, dressed in a suit, eating breakfast with his kids. He eats a McGriddle delightfully. The ticking noise now gains a steady pace.

Step 5: This is the storyboarding phase. Envision what your video might look like. You don’t have to be a talented artist (or an artist at all, as you can tell), just include enough information so that when it’s time to start shooting, you have a clear plan. Even better than drawing, take a camera and shoot photos of how you want to frame your shot. You can also use any clip art at your disposal.


Then you’re ready for production! Maybe someday I’ll get around to actually filming this PSA, but in any case, I’ll leave you with one of the most effective and provocative PSAs I’ve ever seen: