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Most Dubious Public Service Campaigns in Colorado…and Beyond

Teach me something, NBC. Preferably with Justine Bateman.
Teach me something, NBC. Preferably with Justine Bateman.
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Public service campaigns, whether they’re in print or on radio or television, are meant to do one simple thing: instruct Americans on some aspect of modern life. They’re important, which is why media outlets are required to contribute page space or air time to their cost-free presentation…which, of course, is why they’re traditionally buried in the backs of magazines or on mid-day radio or late-night TV.

Colorado has its own share of PSAs — maybe more than our share, what with the lead we’ve taken with marijuana legalization. In honor of CDOT continuing to beat the dead horse of a bad pun (more on that in our top slot below), here's our list of some of our favorite terrible Colorado PSAs.

What two-dimensional flight school did you attend, Fred?
What two-dimensional flight school did you attend, Fred?

10. Enough With Fred Estrian
CDOT has used this terrible pun since 2016, when Fred Estrian started to champion the safety of pedestrians (seriously, you just know some ad person somewhere is super-proud of this play on words, if one can truly call it that). Now in 2018, Fred Estrian has inexplicably become a captain and has taken on something of an aeronautic flavor — just why he’s doing that is unclear. What’s the relationship between walking and flying? Where do crosswalks come into it? That’s not how air traffic works. This isn’t The Jetsons. Still, it’s semi-entertaining when someone doubles down on a bad idea. If that’s not a lesson from the Trump era, I don’t know what is.

9. How Kids in the 1970s Knew Pueblo
Here’s the only thing I used to know about Colorado when I was a kid growing up in Illinois: that there was a lot of public service information contained in Pueblo. In pamphlet form, mostly. And it was all about anything you’d want to know: passports, zip codes and generally (or so it seemed) the way the world worked. This ad, which usually ran during the “low-rent” time slots of after-school kids' programming, boasts “over 200 publications” that will help you solve every problem, from weight loss to home improvement to…alien invasion, I guess? Man, back in the 1970s, Pueblo was a hotbed of knowledge and excitement, pamphlet-style.

8. Marijuana Makes You a Bad Handyman
Somehow, these ads prove two contradictory things at the same time: one, that the ad folks were clearly high when they wrote them, and two, that they’ve never, ever smoked pot in their lives.

7. Art Snobs for Utility Regulation
Do art openings really scream “responsible energy usage” to you? Me, either. Colorado Springs Utilities, you're better than this. Or at least we'd like to think you are.

Jimmy is wrong. Don't be Jimmy.
Jimmy is wrong. Don't be Jimmy.
Westword Illustration

6. Don’t Be Jimmy...or RTD's Marketing Team
We had some fun with this lame Colorado ad campaign for RTD last summer, and it had the grace to sort of fade away since then. But don’t you miss the time when PSAs had the good sense to just go for earnest and clumsily charming? That worked well enough, didn’t it? The way these campaigns so desperately try to hit the zeitgeist these days is sort of like watching a fifty-something “cool mom” try to relate with her seventeen-year-old by talking about this “PewDiePie” person she heard about on NPR. Uncomfortable.

5. Beware the Needlessly Aggressive
Far be it from me to criticize someone’s acting, but clearly the actress carrying this "Beware the Beltless" spot from CDOT wasn’t instructed well enough on exactly how to play the role. She relishes the deadly damage she’s about to do to her friends in a chew-the-scenery way that distracts from the actual message of the PSA — namely, that human beings can be lethal projectiles in an accident if they’re not seat-belted in. All I learn from this ad is: This girl seems to have a serious emotional issue that she needs to address. And also: I don’t want her creepy ass in my back seat, belted or not.

4. Don’t Suck (the Colorado Dry)
Who were the ad wizards behind this spot about a lethargic and clearly depressed bipedal fish carrying a cardboard sign around a ghost town somewhere in Grand County? The catchphrase is clear enough: Don’t Suck the Colorado Dry. Yes, good, fish need water, and we need water, and Colorado needs water. All good. But this campaign, in its zeal to embrace the meme-worthy absurdity of the Internet age, seems to forget the baseline of its own message: Don’t suck. (Sorry, depressed man-fish.)

3. Oh My God Make the Poetry Stop
Okay, so it’s not a PSA, but can we just take a moment to mention that whoever is doing the ads for Anderson Hemmat needs to be fired? Or at least pilloried? Rhyme and meter are beautiful animals of language, sir, and you’ve just slaughtered them and made their carcasses into grotesque badly animated hand puppets. I guess one could argue that these ads are so awful that they’re memorable — but all I’m remembering is that if I need a lawyer, I shouldn’t call a terrible poet. There’s “bad” that’s memorable, but as Huey Lewis once reminded us, sometimes, bad is bad.

2. Keep America Beautiful…and Also Racist
Bill Maher recently had a bit on old TV shows and the Internet’s love of criticizing things we now find offensive that back in the day passed for entertainment. “You are tolerating things right now that will make you cringe in 25 years,” he said, and he’s right. Want proof? This classic PSA — and this ran nationwide, not just in Colorado — that shows an Italian-American actor who named himself Iron Eyes Cody pretending to be a caricature of a Native American, dressed in beads and buckskin, weeping over the littering of America. Remember: This was woke back in the day. Sort of.

1. Dumb Ways to Make Your Point
Denver’s RTD imported this successful Australian ad campaign about public safety, where it became something of an Internet sensation and won many awards. Which makes some sense. It’s got that cruel whimsy that the world has loved since Edward Gorey started drawing the ABCs of childhood demise. But then things got a little too real, and RTD realized that maybe making fun of the fatal aspects of safety wasn’t such a good idea. Here’s to common sense — even in advertising.

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