First of all, let me preface this piece by saying I’m totally in favor of the Ad Council and public service announcements (PSAs). They’re probably the only form of advertising that actually should get stuck in your head, because they often serve a useful purpose: reminding you not to do stupid shit like littering, smoking crack, burning down your house or texting while roller-blading blindfolded across a busy street.
The only problem with that is in the execution: these ads usually have less than a minute to get their message hammered into our brains, so they usually resort to scare tactics that would be better suited to Navy SEAL training. What’s even worse is most of them are targeted at kids — so many of us remember as wee ones being deeply scarred by these abominations.
How well these ads work has probably never been studied (I’m guessing because no one was willing to volunteer), and I’m not going to go all science on you here either. I’m just offering to be your guide on a journey into the heart of educational darkness, so read on and maybe you’ll learn something… like maybe how to be deeply afraid of your television.
[Full disclosure: I wrote about many of these PSAs several years ago as a reporter for FEARnet.com… but they don’t freak me out any less now than they did way back then.]
Behold… the Devil Monkey
This ’70s anti-heroin PSA is quite an oldie, the quality of the YouTube video is crappy (I’m surprised no one wanted to preserve it for posterity) and it’s the shortest ad on this list… but I’m pretty sure it will still get its point across just fine. Why? Because it doesn’t give your brain nearly enough time to prepare before it jumps on your face and eats your eyeballs.
Don’t Beer the Reaper
Most drunk-driving warning ads from the ’80s were too full of rooster bangs and Members Only jackets to be effective, and this one almost goes down the same cheesy road (see what I did there?), but with a nice little turn at the end that might have actually scared a few teens into postponing their driving test. Okay, maybe not. But… ewww, right? I call shotgun, dead boy!
Smokey is Sexually Confusing Me
BLADE RUNNER fans like me instantly recognize the sultry vision that is Joanna Cassidy, and while we don’t get to see her topless here, you do get to hear her deep, husky voice and drink in a nice, loving closeup that continues to track in… until… until your puberty suddenly takes a disturbing turn and now you’re mortally afraid of beautiful women who will swallow your face if you even think about lighting a match.
Dark Mirror of the Mind
This anorexia awareness ad is a remake of a much scarier ’80s version that I can’t seem to find anywhere. (There are other recent ads borrowing the same concept as well.) The visual style is an exact copy, but instead of the pop-rock background music, the original began with an innocent music-box-type lullaby and morphed into a dissonant horror cue… or at least that’s how I remember it. The new one is still nightmarish, and its message is relevant as ever.
Release the Rats, Dave!
The one and only David Lynch directed this doom-filled “Clean Up New York” ad. If the words I just wrote there haven’t already convinced you how this clip going to mess your shit up, then I’ll write them again: David fucking Lynch directed this ad, which features lots of rats with nasty big pointy teeth. You might as well just press play or move to the next one, because I freaked myself out again just thinking about it and I can’t write another word about this monstrosity.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM II: THE METH YEARS
While we’re talking famous directors totally maiming your innocence in artistic ways, let’s move on to Darren Aronofsky. Of course you know his acclaimed semi-horror film BLACK SWAN, but he also directed a delightful little romp about drug abuse, insanity, death and dismemberment called REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, and these anti-meth online ads are just as horrifying — if not more so. There are several versions in this series, so I just picked out the one that creeped me the most. You’re welcome.
THE CABINET OF DR. WTF IS THIS SHIT?
Oh look, a cartoon! Made by Saturday morning TV icons Hanna-Barbera, no less! This should be fun. Nah, I’m kidding, it’s another wide-awake nightmare. Although it seems to be educating kids on the dangers of marijuana as a “gateway drug” to harder stuff, the animators were obviously tripping balls while making it. But it’s the message that counts, right? Yeah, whatever. Oh, and there are zombies in it, they live in a cabinet and they suck the life-force from children. Enjoy.
Satan Lives in Your Pants (Of Course)
This safe-sex ad is kinda funny, even if the central joke is about as old as a 1920s burlesque routine (a guy’s wiener has a mind of its own… whoa, tell me another one). But there’s something about a shrill, wise-cracking insult comic living in your underpants that’s deeply unsettling when you stop to think about it… especially when it starts crying. My fear is that the little guy will resort to violence to protect his own interests.
For God’s Sake… DON’T!
Oh boy! First we watched a cartoon, and now cute fuzzy puppets. With teeth. Who look more than a little bit insane… and obsess over putting things in your mouth, so much that they even wrote a song about it. A song that seems to go on forever, until you feel your will to live slipping away. I can’t even begin to tally up all the things that are wrong with this piece, but I’m pretty sure the phrases “Talk to someone you love” and “Don’t stuff it in your face” should never be linked together. Ever.
What’s Creepier than the Garbage Pail Kids? DRUGS!
Hey, more puppets! Actually, I’m not sure if anything in the known universe is more disturbing than the Garbage Pail Kids… but to be fair, these swollen monstrosities aren’t actually the real deal. Still, the Canadian council who produced this PSA managed to find something even creepier: late ’90s Denis Leary! Okay, so maybe that wasn’t actually meant to be him… but it’s a nightmarish prospect all the same. (Be sure to watch this one all the way to the end!)
BONUS: The Monsters Are Real
This isn’t a vintage ad, but instead part of a 2012 social media campaign to raise awareness of the effects of alcohol abuse — specifically, the way a parent’s addiction can impact the life of their child. I don’t currently have kids of my own, but if I did, I’m 100% positive this clip would give me damn good reason to consider its message… and thank goodness I wasn’t actually a kid myself when this thing first went online, because I’d probably still be in therapy.