The 8 Most Excessively Disturbing Public Health Campaigns
Public health campaigns are just like regular advertisements, except that instead of selling McRibs, they're promoting awareness for a cause. Sometimes they're done with facts, sometimes they're done with heartfelt testimonials, and sometimes they're done with mind-ripping nightmare imagery that destroys any lingering belief in a loving god.
"Where's Your Child?"
Australia's "Where's Your Child?" campaign (designed to emphasize the importance of keeping an eye on kids while they're playing around the beach, swimming pools and other popular drowning locations) featured a hard-hitting poster demanding that parents answer the titular question. Which is actually kind of easy. ("Duh, he's right there.")
To be clear, that image above isn't the ad -- it's a picture of the ad, which is placed at the bottom of an actual swimming pool. The posters were designed by the thoughtful folks in Watch Around Water's Department of Terrible Ideas, presumably to give lifeguards a heart attack every 17 seconds and allow water-winged toddlers to delight in the experience of wading across a decal of the sunken corpse of a young couple's hopes and dreams.
"Wait, we only had one ad down there? Crap."
Hundreds of life-size photographs of a drowned little boy were subsequently put in swimming pools across the country, which is kind of like painting Osama bin Laden's silhouette on the back of that curtain that separates first class from coach, or tying a bag of fingers to the underside of new lawnmowers.
"Giving Children Back Their Future"
This image of what appears to be Anthony Kiedis with Benjamin Button disease tying off a vein in a haunted bathroom is the work of Barnardo's, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization that generates support for kids who suffer from poverty, abuse and sexual assault. They've received numerous complaints over the years for their controversial tactics, but none generated so much hate mail as their "Giving Children Back Their Future" campaign. Possibly because of the whole "baby doing heroin" thing.
The other ads in the series weren't any sunnier -- one showed a small boy about to jump off a building, and another had an infant desperately clawing for a bottle of whiskey, possibly because they'd both just seen a Barnardo's ad. They were attempting to make the point that children who are victims of abuse are much more likely to succumb to self-destructive behavior as they get older and end up drowning themselves in liquor or blasting smack in some AIDS-soaked dungeon.
"We have another one of a toddler installing Windows 8, but it was making people vomit."
It's debatable how well that point was made, but we assume that most of the money Barnardo's raised from "Giving Children Back Their Future" came from people who just never wanted to see those pictures again.
"Children Will Put Anything in Their Mouths"
Oh, look. It's a child eating dog shit.
Evidently, people failing to pick up dog poop is such a huge problem in the U.K. that a local councilor named Dave Butt (that is his actual name) launched a campaign to stop dog owners from leaving steaming piles of fudgebutter all over the place instead of picking them up with their hands like civilized human beings. He designed a series of 6-foot posters to be hung in bus stations across the borough of Torbay to try to curb the rampant scourge, but really all he did was put up a bunch of pictures of a little girl eating a cake of shit by the smeary fistful.
Councilor Butt (which incidentally sounds like the name of a character Tom Arnold must have played at some point in his career) made sure that the fine for "dog fouling" was prominently featured on each poster, although the ambiguity of the text makes it unclear whether the fine is for not picking up after your pet or for allowing a 3-year-old to cram a mound of rancid shit into her face like it's a tub of Ben & Jerry's.
"Don't waste that! There are starving children in England!"
That being said, Councilor Butt (weeeeeee) stands by his ads. He claims that not only has he received no complaints about the graphic nature of the posters, but that dog poop complaints have been cut in half since the campaign launched. Although, if the only thing keeping British children from shoving poop into their mouths is their lack of access to it, there is probably a larger problem there.
"Smoking Means Being a Slave to Tobacco"
A French anti-smoking group called Droits des Non-Fumeurs (Non-Smokers' Rights) wanted to come up with a campaign that would really grab people, so they produced a series of ads by tapping into our collective instinctual fear of old man face rape. To be fair, that guy's crotch could be a pulsing jet of flame. Or we could be looking at a particularly zany novelty cigarette vending machine.
The ad's caption reads "Smoking means being a slave to tobacco." Droits des Non-Fumeurs is basically saying that every time you light up at a bar, you are wrapping your lips around the throbhammer of a Marlboro executive while he happily takes your money. Plenty of people were seriously offended, and not just smokers. In fact, the majority of the negative response to the ads accused Non-Fumeurs of minimizing sexual abuse to make their point, arguing that the organization was essentially telling the young people of France that the heartbreaking debasement of a power-hungry man in a three-piece suit forcefully docking his wrinkled chubmarine between their teeth was preferable to the horrors of smoking a cigarette.
"If You Don't Help Feed Them, Who Will?"
The Philippines can be a harsh mistress. Only 40 percent of the population receives adequate nutrition, and a number of those who go hungry are very young children. Luckily, organizations like Concordia Children's Services exist to help care for all the abandoned infants (CCS deals specifically with kids in Manila). Arguably less lucky is the fact that they generate awareness for their cause by using twinkling gems of horror like this ad featuring mewling dirt children gnawing on the teats of a giant pig.
The caption in the lower right corner reads "If you don't help feed them, who will?" because we know you didn't realize that there was writing on that picture until just now. Concordia Children's Services doesn't go for the violin music and bearded man in flannel apologetically asking you to donate money -- it grabs a stick of wrought impoverished horror and beats you in the face with it until you throw your wallet at them and run away.
"Don't Treat Others the Way You Don't Want to Be Treated"
Shock tactics in animal abuse PSAs are nothing new. PETA is particularly infamous for their patented brand of shitheadery, which in the past has both made fun of a man's cancer and described the eating of chicken and the Holocaust as essentially the same thing. But the recent campaign by the U.K. animal rights group Humans for Animals, entitled "Don't Treat Others the Way You Don't Want to be Treated," takes the PETA formula and increases the crazy to Kubrickian levels. The ads depict people and animals switching places in some of the more brutal cases of animal cruelty around the globe, from the baby-seal-clubbing above to the eating of live monkey brains, which is a delicacy in China ...
... to laboratory testing on mice:
"We're going to need to make a few modifications on my cellphone."
Humans for Animals may boast the best webpage design 1996 had to offer, but their message is timeless: Being subjected to some of the things animals are routinely put through would be pretty goddamned awful. Unfortunately, to a passerby, the only message is going to be "So those seals are murdering our children now? To war!"
"Rain Changes Everything"
Papakura, New Zealand, is plagued by a high number of road fatalities that are arguably a result of the country's extensive rainy seasons. The "Rain Changes Everything" campaign is an attempt to persuade drivers to throttle back a little on wet pavement. The billboards feature a young boy's face and a simple message pleading with people to drive appropriate to the conditions of the road. On a sunny day, it's a boring picture of a kid. But when it rains, he starts oozing blood from every orifice.
What sorcery is this? The rainwater drips into a reservoir behind the billboard, which contains a red concoction that then leaks out of several holes in the picture to make it look like the kid's face has been smashed through a windshield (although his expression doesn't change, so he seems fairly OK with it). As you rocket past, hastily mashing out a hilarious text message, you'll look up and see those blood-soaked eyes reaching into your mind for every lie you've ever told.
Officials say that the ads have been remarkably effective, considering how many people you'd think would go swerving off the road in terror as soon as they glimpsed it in their windshield.
"If You See a Child as Anything More ..."
Wisconsin has a serious problem with statutory rape -- a whopping 71 percent of teen pregnancies in the state involve a father over the age of 20, meaning out of every four teen moms, three of them were implanted with the writhing, mustachioed seed of some shambling predator (and not the awesome kind that turns invisible and comes from space).
To try to generate awareness of this staggering figure (and ideally lower it in the process), the Family Violence Partnership in Milwaukee joined forces with a nonprofit marketing agency called Serve to find three of the breastiest women in the state and Photoshop the heads of prepubescent girls onto their bodies:
Wait, is that Punky Brewster?
After showing these images, we guarantee two things -- female readers are half-laughing, half-gasping out some variation of "Oh my God," and male readers are scrolling down as fast as they can before somebody walks by and sees their screen.
The ads were originally meant to run as giant billboards, but after they tested poorly in focus groups (because apparently public awareness campaigns meant to defend children against sexual abuse are beholden to the exact same set of standards as a Hot Pocket commercial), they were all but entirely canceled. Incredibly, the only distribution the campaign ever saw outside of the Internet was as a series of life-size posters displayed in public bathroom stalls, which you may recognize as places where violent lunatics almost never go to masturbate.
For more public health ads that probably did more harm than good, check out The 10 Most Disturbing PSAs From Around the World and The 6 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Old School PSAs.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The Most Baffling PSA Ever: Vote Like ... Spider-Man?
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