This is the headline of one of the hard-hitting public awareness advertisements that the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation launched in Vietnam this summer.

Asia Injury Prevention Foundation Ad 1

Asia Injury Prevention Foundation Ad 2

Asia Injury Prevention Foundation Ad 3

Every year OVER 11,000 PEOPLE DIE on our roads and 30,000 are seriously INJURED. That means THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES left PICKING UP THE PIECES. Families tortured by the LOSS OF A LOVED ONE. Crippled by REDUCED INCOME of the sudden need to care for a relative with PERMANENT BRAIN DAMAGE. The sad truth is that 40% of these cases could have been PREVENTED by simply wearing a HELMET. When you think about it, there are NO EXCUSES.

There are an alarming number of traffic causalities in the developing Asian countries. The Asia Injury Prevention Foundation is working to reduce the number of deaths by giving out biking helmets and creating an overall awareness of the extent of the problem. The message in these ads tries to strike an emotional cord by showing that failure to use a helmet not only affects the rider, but also ultimately affects their families.

Public health ads and campaigns are difficult to execute effectively and a challenge for any designer. Instead of trying to get the viewer to buy a product or service, public health posters motivate the viewer to change their lifestyle to achieve better health. And that’s not easy! It’s difficult enough trying to get a friend to quit smoking let alone 100,000 people.

Public health posters have certain elements that, if done correctly, can have an impact. They need to:

  • Engage the viewer quickly
  • Connect emotionally
  • Contain a powerful visual
  • Have a clear and powerful message
  • Present a call to action

Recently, public health campaigns both in print and on television have moved past targeting the individual, most notably in anti-drug campaigns. They now focus on how drug and alcohol use will affect the users family and friends. Past campaigns tended to use shocking visuals of canerous lungs, strung out meth users, drunk driving crashes, etc. According to the illustrator and designer Lance Hidy,

Terrifying images have limited effectiveness, since they cause us to go numb for a while. We learn to become insensitive to the meaning of a mushroom cloud; otherwise we could become disabled by our emotions!

Public health ads should not work to desensitize the viewer. The Asia Injury Prevention ads above would have been less effective had they not had the strong message at the bottom. It’ that message that makes us connect emotionally. It forces us to think beyond ourselves and envision the consequences of our actions on our family and friends.

I love cycling. I bike to class everyday and all around Chicago. I rarely wear a helmet (and I have used the excuses above). Since first seeing this ad about a month ago, I’ve worn a helmet every time I’ve gotten on my bike.

The next time you see a public health ad think to yourself, is this trying to shock me into action, or is it trying to connect with me emotionally?