Why Do Fireworks Safety PSAs Inevitably Make Me Want to Buy Fireworks?
It happens every year, without fail. Public safety agencies across America set up demonstrations of the danger that fireworks pose to life and limb.
And in the course of mangling a dozen or so mannequins, I would argue that they actually spur more fireworks sales than they prevent. I can only speak from personal experience here, but that experience runs deep.
Years ago, when I was still working as a reporter, I attended one of these demonstrations, put on by the Broward Sheriff's Office in South Florida. As is customary, highly-trained explosives experts in armored bomb squad gear detonated common consumer-grade fireworks, blowing the limbs and heads clean off some stand-in safety dummies.
To me and pretty much every red-blooded American male I know, this made fireworks look fun-as-heck.
Following this pageantry, I interviewed a department representative who will remain unnamed. And after concluding my by-this-point heavily scripted interview (this happens EVERY YEAR, after all), I stopped my recorder, raised an eyebrow and asked, plainly, "Admit it, you guys are going to take the rest of these fireworks out to Weston tonight and shoot them into the swamp."
To which, my source laughed and said, "Are you kidding? We're crazy about fireworks! This day is the most fun we have all year."
I stopped on the way back to the news room and purchased my own stockpile of illegal fireworks, which we set off later that night in the radio station parking lot.
Buying my fireworks, by the way, required its own set of legal, moral and logical gymnastics. You see, it's not illegal to sell or buy fireworks in Florida, but it's illegal to use them. So with my purchase, I had to sign an affidavit saying I would not use them for illegal purposes in the State of Florida.
Six notaries public sat at desks in that fireworks tent, notarizing the signatures of customers like me, who were lined up out the door. When my turn came to have my signature stamped, I asked my notary, "Just so I'm clear, what are the LEGAL uses for fireworks in the State of Florida?"
Without batting an eye, she said, "You can legally set these off in a farm field for the purposes of scaring away birds."
I surveyed the crowded tent. "Didn't realize we had so many farmers in the Miami area," I quipped. And then, I had a blast setting off fireworks, illegally, nearly injuring myself several times in the process.
If there's a moral to this story, I would say it's this: in your communications campaigns, be honest with yourself and be honest with your audience.
You can lie to yourself and say that a demonstration of fireworks danger is going to scare people away from using fireworks. But your audience is going to see right through you--especially if the people carrying out the demonstration are grinning giddily behind their explosives masks.
Know your audience and how they'll respond to your messaging. Because if you choose a messaging channel just because that's the channel you want to use, your audience is going to take from it the message they want to hear.
Happy Independence Day.