Countdown synopsis: And so this is Christmas… it’s the time for giving, loving, celebrating and collectively stuffing our faces with highly calorific sugary and fatty dissipations that we like to kid ourselves eating with quotes like, “But it’s Christmas!” – and then standing in front of the mirror when the stark realisation of another boringly mundane January hits you square in the face like a large cinderblock, leaving you wondering why we’ve all of a sudden ballooned to the size of a small house, compelling you to start working off all the fat you’ve accumulated just to put it all back on again the following Christmas. As you can tell by my slight passive aggressive and overly-specific description, I feel that there’s a certain wishy-washiness surrounding Christmas – like it’s all an excuse to pretend we care about the world and caring for others, when in reality, deep down we all can’t stand each other and will soon succumb to our socially-inept lives of turning our nose up at starving homeless people begging for small change outside our lavished upscale supermarkets and restaurants crammed with enough food to feed a small town for a month that subsequently ends up in the bin for the flies and worms to feast on, and refusing to make eye contact with a single soul on our morning train to work resorting to eyeballing up people’s shoes and god-awful sense of fashion (seriously, who would wear those with that?!) looking anywhere but other people’s sour-faced mugs (especially us Brits). Or maybe this year you’re drowning your sorrows as the 174,534th mention of the word “Brexit” this week will probably send you flinging yourself over an edge of a rocky cliff face as you grin to yourself at the thought of welcoming death with open arms as your body succumbs to blunt trauma from the impact of your squishy extremities pummelling off the hard cragged rocks below. Whatever way you’re celebrating or not celebrating crimbo, Christmas has also been the time of creepy, disturbing, and soul-crushing PSAs – and you know me, I’d choose to binge on morbid and harrowing PSAs than a revolting, arty-farty mince pie any day. But I do love a good sprout, though (yes, I’m one of those people).
– sorry, I had to.
12: “Idiots” – MTV, 2006 (United Kingdom)
Don’t be fooled by the title of this first ad. A cheery rendition of “Jingle Bells” juxtaposes the miserable shots of multiple drunkards in the back of black taxis as they succumb to how most drunkards end up when their blood alcohol level has skyrocketed to that of a large-scale brewery; spewing their guts out, rolling around intoxicated, falling flat on their faces, arguing with taxi drivers, attempting to smooch a fellow passenger who’s clearly not into you (who actually looks like they want to thump you one for even existing), dropping cheap takeaway cuisine all over themselves, and pissing their pants whilst out like a light. Bunch of idiots, eh? Actually, it turns out that the real “idiots” are those that drive themselves home, as the ending text says. Unarguably, that is a really good point, and it probably makes you think of drunk people in a different light now. Well, those who are smart enough to know not to drive home after getting drunk anyway.
11: “Make It Home for Christmas” – FIA Foundation, 2017 (United Kingdom)
Let’s leave the one and only “light-hearted” ad miles behind because it’s about to get really depressing. As another cliché and overly copyright-protected song plays, we see a young girl in her pretty bedroom on Christmas Eve night excitedly waiting for her dad to return home so she can open her prezzies. Unbeknownst to her, her eager texting to her dad somewhat rushing him to put his foot down and return home as soon as possible ultimately ends up in what you’ve all been waiting for as soon as you saw my video pop up in your YouTube subscription box – a grisly shot of his lifeless corpse lying in a wet, muddy road. Turns out texting your dad urging him to get home before she opens all her prezzies whilst he was driving wasn’t a bright move after all. What is very clever about this ad though, is how the ad has been filmed and executed. It is shot in a somewhat oscillated fashion – the camera pans around the centre of a circle, circulating between shots of the young girl and her dad texting each other (the usual cheesy stuff like “I’ve left the carrots and milk out for Santa, blah blah blah”), accompanied with surprisingly well-rendered 3D text messages showing their on-screen conversations between each other. After she messages him “Goodnight, daddy” with a beating heart, we are accompanied by a lovely shot of her dad’s dead corpse with blood running out his nose. The ad then ends with the young girl mourning the loss of her father as her eyes flood with tears in a cold and very dark woods, as it zooms out to show an epitaph with a picture of her and her dad with some flowers against the tree where he presumably died. Yeah, it’s probably a bit cheesy – and the sad expressions of the young girl could be a bit more realistic. But it is quite a really well-produced ad if I do say so myself. Don’t text and drive, folks. Actually, don’t do anything this Christmas. It’s probably the best for yourself and everyone else that you become a hermit and don’t ever leave the house. I wouldn’t blame you.
10: “Grieving Mother” – COI, 1993 (United Kingdom)
Here’s another ad that gives pretty much the whole synopsis solely via the title alone. We see home footage of a young girl on Christmas day, opening a present of a lovely giraffe plush courtesy of her loving parents. It slowly begins to zoom out, as the tape rewinds over and over again. We then see that it is a – colour me surprised – a grieving mother in her living room rewatching what’s probably the last reminisce of her deceased daughter she has. The father then walks in with a tray of tea, hurrying to comfort her and turning the cassette player off before her excessive rewinding completely knackers the tape. Turns out, it’s an ad advising us to buy a smoke alarm as the smoke from a house fire is enough to kill a small child in under a minute. Sorta makes you feel somewhat hopeless though, doesn’t it? I mean, if smoke from a house fire could kill a child in just one minute, surely they would die anyway regardless of whether or not you had a smoke alarm? Let’s say that if the smoke alarm is situated downstairs, and even if the child did wake up, they’d still be inhaling the smoke whilst escaping from the fire anyway? Maybe I’m just being overly pedantic. Or maybe I’m just hungry. I get like that when I’m hungry. Bit weird to discuss how hungry one is getting whilst discussing children being charred to death in house fires. Let’s move on.
9: “Don’t Leave Your Child Alone” – COI, 1982 (United Kingdom)
Speaking of children being charred to death in house fires, here’s another ad with the same synopsis – only this time, it’s about leaving your children alone in the house whilst you go out getting bladdered up with the world’s supply of alcohol. There’s not much to this ad, really. A camera just pans around a family home during Christmas whilst a young girl discusses how her parents left her and her brother for an excuse to get drunk and stuff their faces with the aforementioned revolting Christmas dissipations. As the girl begins to describe her younger brother’s dark fate, the camera pans upstairs to the children’s bedroom to show a bunk bed with the girl sleeping, with the top bunk empty where her brother used to sleep. It is quite a well-known ad in the PIF community, and for good reason. It’s just too damn creepy. It scares even me of leaving my children alone in the house – and I can’t even stand children! Not that I’d ever be that irresponsible of leaving children alone in an empty house anyway. It’s just a shame that the McCanns didn’t take notes in retrospect.
8: “50 Year Anniversary” – Department of Transport, 2014 (United Kingdom)
This one is just brilliant. If you’re part of the PIF community like me, you’d know that Think! aren’t exactly renowned for their pathetic excuses for safety adverts over the years. The rare exception would be their millennium drink drive campaign featuring real footage of drink driving accidents played against a set of those typical cheesy Christmas songs (such as Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Cliff Richard, and Slade). This one though, is probably one (if not the only one) of their ads that isn’t… how do I put this in a friendly way… shockingly shit? We start the ad with an overturned car, panning into an occupant that looks a little worse for wear (to put it lightly). All of a sudden the firemen, police, and the EMTs all start breaking out into song in a rather black-comical way: attending to victims in their usual emergency fashion but speak-singing the words to the famous Kool & The Gang song. As the ad progresses on, it changes to the staff and nurses at the hospital (of which I’m particularly impressed with the way they’ve incorporated the “Come on!” lyric so that she’s literally calling out to the patient to not die on her), with accompanying text saying: “In fifty years, drink driving deaths have fallen from 1,640 a year to 230.” The final shot shows two policemen knocking on the victim’s door to tell the victim’s family that he’s dead, causing her to slowly collapse to the floor with her young child still in her arms. The text concludes: “But that’s still 230 too many.” It is a bit of a reminiscent to TAC’s “Everybody Hurts” anniversary campaign a few years prior, with a similar concept (and an obviously ripped-off tagline). It is still a very unique ad in its own way, though.
7: “Joyeux Noël” – AIVI, 2015 (France)
France has a special place in my heart. Not the place itself, as I’m sure it’s very lovely – I’m talking about when it comes to PSAs. Oui, oui. They certainly do not screw around when it comes to road safety ads (you only have to think of the many ads courtesy of the DSCR to figure that one out), and they certainly don’t pull any punches when it comes to familial sexual abuse… because what’s better than tucking into your Christmas dinner without watching an ad about incest? (Yes, that is a joke – I feel the compelling need to explain what’s a joke to some people these days.) Anyway, we start this ad with yet another copyrighted Christmas song used as a juxtaposition for what we’re about to endure. We see a very solemn looking boy, dreadfully staring at a Christmas advent calendar as it slowly counts down to Christmas. As the ad progresses, the boy’s unenthusiastic behaviour towards Christmas gets progressively worse: not joining in with his family decorating the Christmas tree, sabotaging the gingerbread men that his family have baked, tearing up and ruining his younger sister’s drawings, frantically taking off his Christmas jumper and chucking it on the floor, and scribbling all over the walls of his bedroom. As the ad draws to a close, we see why the young boy has been behaving spitefully all this time: he has been dreading the family Christmas get together, standing in terror as his front door is obnoxiously banged from the dreaded family member as a text reads: “Not every child is looking forward to Christmas.” We finally see that he has run off upstairs, taking shelter in a wardrobe as the text concludes: “72% of child sexual abuse in France is committed by a family member.” That’s a nice little bit of trivia to stick in a Christmas cracker and pulled at a Christmas family meal, isn’t it?
6: “Dave” – COI, 1990 (United Kingdom)
I mean come on, is there anyone who’s sad enough to claim they’re apart of the YouTube PIF community like myself who hasn’t seen this one? This ad is like PIF 101 of PIF school for losers like me who could probably quote any PIF given to him in his sleep. It actually used to be a household name back in the early 1990s when it first aired – I guess it was the meme before memes even existed, and funnily enough went on to become an actual meme in the PIF community. Meme is such a weird word, isn’t it? Anyway, I’ve already talked about this one in a previous countdown commentary (my drink driving one to be precise), so I’m not going to say anything other than it demonstrates the sick, twisted dark comedy that is the British wit. That and it’s a bloody classic. If you ever want a true emblem of what it means to be a British public information film, it’s this one.
5: “12 Days” – Sara Charlton Foundation, 2015 (United Kingdom)
Here’s one that I found completely by accident when searching for another ad in this countdown, and I’m really pleased that I did. It’s a very simple concept, but by God, it’s an effective one. We see a sweet, innocent young girl in her living room decorating the Christmas tree, as a blissful rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas plays softly in the background. The girl proceeds to sit on the sofa, as the camera begins to slowly zoom into her face as she describes her version of 12 Days. As you can tell, it’s nowhere near close to the lyrics of the original – in fact, it’s the exact opposite. She describes how her “true love” (i.e. her father) gave her and her mummy the twelve gifts of domestic violence, including “five broken ribs”, “four cigarette burns” and “a Christmas in A&E”; far from the usual gold rings, French hens, turtle doves and partridges in pear trees. It’s a very stark ad, especially when the girl stares straight into the camera at the end. The text concludes: “Two women a week are killed as a result of domestic violence. Many are mothers.” That’s a nice little bit of trivia to stick in a Christmas cracker and pulled at a Christmas family meal, isn’t it? Have I already made that joke? Now I do feel like a joke inside a Christmas cracker. Let’s move on.
4: “12 Days of Christmas” – TAC, 1998 (Australia)
No, you’re not having déjà vu, here is another ad that is yet again based on The 12 Days of Christmas – but this time, it’s just the sound of a young girl humming it, which only makes matters worse. TAC are notorious for their no-nonsense, stomach-turning, and deeply distressing approach to road safety commercials. And do you think the Aussies take a break out of their pull-no-punches road safety PSAs during Christmas? Absolutely bloody not. This ad is a prime example of that festive fear. We see a family celebrating Christmas (did you honestly expect it to start any other way?), where the father idiotically decides to make the decision to drive when he’s been drinking. As you could probably guess, it ends tragically – the father ending up brain dead from crashing his car into a pole. The clever format of this ad is that each sequence is a different day, essentially the twelve days leading up to Christmas: with his family celebrating on Monday, his accident happening and his family rushing to see him in hospital on Wednesday, his life support being switched off on Sunday, his funeral happening on Christmas Eve and his wife and two kids being left without him on Christmas Day – all of which oddly sounds like the lyrics to one particular Craig David song. Anyway, I still don’t quite understand exactly how he managed to crash his car in the first place, though. Like yeah, he’d been drinking – but the way he crashed the car was almost like he wanted to die; like he couldn’t be arsed with yet another overhyped Christmas so he just decided to top himself. Seriously, it looks as though he deliberately swerves his car away from traffic and crashes it straight into the pole – not applying the brakes or anything! Or perhaps I’m just being pedantic yet again, something that happens quite regularly as you’ve probably figured out by now.
3: “12 Days” – MTV, 2006 (United Kingdom)
Here’s our third and final ad that is based on 12 Days, however it is, in my opinion, the best one of the lot. For a music television channel, it certainly puts the likes of Think! to shame when it comes to road safety ads (seriously, do not even mention their latest pink kitten campaign, it’s bad enough I’ve just had to YouTube it to provide the hyperlink). Now, the audio on its own works extremely well as a creepy standalone ad, but coupled with the visuals makes it even more disturbing, so for any blind or visually impaired viewers, I’m going to give you a description of what happens as best as I possibly can. As the carol singers start off with “On the twelfth day of Christmas a drink driver gave to me…”, we see outside a snowy hospital at night with an ambulance pulling in to A&E, pulling out a young child in a stretcher and wheeling them into the hospital (“twelve months in traction…”). We then see a boy in crutches from outside the window walking along the hospital corridor (“eleven weeks on crutches…”), a young girl in hospital scrubs, with her eyes taped shut and a tube in her mouth, about to undergo an operation in theatre (“ten operations…”), another boy sitting on a couch in an examination room with one of his legs amputated as a nurse tends to him (“nine years of nightmares…”), a close up shot of a girl sitting on a hospital bed wearing one of those paper Christmas party hats that you find in Christmas crackers with severe wounds and stitches on her face as she woefully looks at the camera (“eight open flesh wounds…”), another young boy sitting on a hospital bed attached to a drip, talking to a nurse with large white bandages wrapped around his abdomen (“seven spinal fractures…”), a young girl lying unconscious in a hospital bed being wheeled down the corridor by a nurse (“six days unconscious…”), an unconscious boy in a hospital bed with large plastic tubes protruding from his mouth supplying him with food (the iconic, highly quoted, and often typed in all caps, “food through a tube…”), a paramedic rushing into the hospital entrance carrying what looks like a baby or small infant wrapped in a blanket (“four broken limbs…”), doctors performing chest compressions on a boy (“three heart attacks…”), a young girl being given oxygen desparately grasping for breath (“two punctured lungs…“) and a father carrying his son from out of his wheelchair and into his car (“and a lifetime in a wheelchair.”). Bloody hell, that was a lot, wasn’t it? Seriously though, I think this ad is a work of art. It’s that perfect mixture of juxtaposing what’s supposed to be a light-hearted song with that of grotesque visuals of young victims of drink driving accidents, with a slight tang of sentimentality and festivity. This ad actually makes it feel more like Christmas than ads that are supposed to make it feel more like Christmas – so take that and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine, John Lewis. It’s brilliant.
2: “Excuses” – NSPCC, 1991 (United Kingdom)
Now, I was blissfully unaware that this ad even existed until a few years ago – let alone it ever being a Christmas ad. This ad has also left a large crevice in the PIF community, with many connoisseurs praising this ad for it’s cruel, stark, and very distressing realism of the sick and twisted wickedness that is child abuse. Set to Tell Me There’s A Heaven by Chris Rea, this cinema ad shows photographs of (presumably) real children accompanied by the excuses their abusers gave when questioned about their sustained injuries – of which some, if not all, proved fatal. We first see a photograph of a young girl with her eyes closed, lovingly cuddling a teddy bear accompanied by some text below which reads, “Sarah tripped over her teddy and fell down the stairs.” When the picture and text fade to black, we see a gritty, almost passive-aggressive remark from (presumably) the NSPCC in response to their abuser’s excuses, which reads, “That didn’t explain the weal marks on her back.” This format continues with the three other pictures. Next, we see a picture of a teenage boy cycling in a park on his bike with text that reads, “Stephen broke his arm falling off his bike.” Fading to black, the response reads, “X-rays revealed seven other unreported fractures.” Next, we see a young boy grinning happily in a bathrobe, with text beneath him that reads, “Robin jumped into the bath before I could stop him.” Again, with the picture and excuse fading to black, the response text reads, “That explained the scalding, but why did he have cigarette burns on his arms?”. Finally, and the one that is undoubtedly the most sickening and saddest of them all as this one literally tells that the girl is dead (unlike the other three), we see a young girl swinging in a park smiling happily with the excuse below her that reads, “I just turned my back for a minute…”. The response to this one is unapologetically disturbing: “The coroner’s report showed multiple bruises, internal bleeding, fractured ribs, malnutrition, and dehydration consistent only with long term abuse.” The text then concludes: “There’s never an excuse for abusing children. There’s no excuse for ignoring it. NSPCC: we don’t accept excuses.” Apparently, this was for their Christmas appeal, which is the only reason why it makes this particular list. But bloody hell – it certainly knows how to tie your stomach in complete knots, doesn’t it? I bet you’re regretting me putting a dampener on your Christmas now, aren’t you? Who am I kidding – of course you’re not. That’s why you’re here. You love creepy PSAs just as much as I do; the more disturbing the better. Well, rejoice… we have one last one to really poo all over your Christmas dinner. And all of your presents. That’s right, Christmas is ruined. And Santa isn’t real. Nor is he going to save you from the sheer terror of mentally-scarring Christmas PSAs. Nobody is safe. Did I mention the pooing all over your Christmas dinner thing? Oh, you’re eating? Sorry about that.
1: “Lennon’s Christmas” – TAC, 1996 (Australia)
In case all of the other Christmas songs you’ve heard so far haven’t been ruined by jarring shots of mangled kids, molesting family members, and lifeless corpses of dads with blood leaking out of their every orifice, this last one is sure to make you unable to listen to Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the same nostalgic light ever again. And the Auzzie folks at TAC certainly know how to drive a stake straight through your heart when it comes to road safety PSAs. In this classic ad set in various hospitals, we see many of the victims and perpetrators of drink driving accidents as we witness first-hand its immediate consequences: from families arguing, people throwing up in hospital corridors, paramedics desperately trying to revive bloodied patients, cleaners mopping up blood in emergency rooms, morticians wheeling corpses to the mortuary, police arresting the drunk drivers whilst proclaiming what’s probably the most proclaimed cliché of drunk people, “I wasn’t drunk!”, etc. This ad probably wouldn’t be half as bad if it wasn’t for the eery rendition of the Lennon classic sang by a coy little girl. Actually, who am I kidding? It’s a TAC ad – of course it’s going to be filled with bloody gore and stomach-churning guilt. And if that wasn’t enough, we are left with TAC’s most notorious and straight-to-the-point tagline, “If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot.” It is safe to say that those Aussies certainly do not mess about. They certainly know how to make you feel like the criminal of a crime you haven’t even committed. But that’s what I love about TAC’s drink driving campaigns: they are not just aimed at the reckless drivers, they are also aimed towards those who have driven home many times after drinking, even if they have never killed anyone and have gotten home safely many times. Because at the end of the day, you’re still a bloody idiot – and TAC aren’t the least bit apologetic of making you feel like crap about it. It’s like you can actually hear the harshness of a thick Aussie accent just by reading the tagline; that’s why they don’t even need a narrator to call you an idiot. And there’s nothing worse than an Australian calling you a bloody idiot. I absolutely love it. Top marks to you, Australia. Top bloody marks. Crack open a cold one for yourselves, you deserve it – just don’t, you know, drive home afterwards.
Final thoughts: To most people, Christmas is a time for celebrating, enjoying company, and enjoying the festivities in the form of drinking and eating things we really shouldn’t be eating for the sake of our own bodies. It is also the time for taking the celebration a little bit too far, taking risks we shouldn’t be taking because, after all, “it’s Christmas”. We can get so caught up in the hype of Christmas and the want for it to be perfect, we tend to forget our responsibilities and lose all function in the rational parts of our brains. Nobody likes to put a downer on Christmas, and nobody wants to scorn people for celebrating Christmas however way they fancy celebrating it. And it is PSAs like these that are important for us to help us remember that. However way you’re celebrating this year, or whether you’re like me and you’re not all that bothered about the whole hoo-ha of Christmas, I hope you all stay safe and have a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one – or let’s hope it’s full of more PSA countdowns. Either one works equally well for me.