It can be challenging to create a public service announcement video about a sad, politically charged, and often misunderstood issue like food deserts. Usually PSAs are one tone—they either make you feel bad, or they make you feel like you feel hopeful. Global advertising agency BBDO created an incredible, poetic PSA video for The Ron Finley Project that we want to share because it hits multiple notes and was done incredibly well. This video not only tugs at the heart strings, but it gives viewers hope and makes them feel like they have the power and opportunity to do something to fix the problem and make their own lives better in the process. In this post, we’re going to break down everything that BBDO did right to help nonprofits and companies craft their own PSAs and brand videos for their organizations
To start out, let’s define a food desert. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as communities that are devoid of fresh fruit, vegetables. and other healthy, whole foods, due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and other providers of healthy food. Ron Finley started The Ron Finley Project helps residents of food deserts transform their communities into food sanctuaries by teaching people how to regenerate their lands into creative business models.
Here is the amazing video produced by BBDO:
Start with a strong opening statement that makes the problem clear
The video starts out with the text, “Over 20 million Americans have to walk on average 3 miles to get fresh food.” The text comes on screen line-by-line, which makes it more engaging for the viewer to read. We see “20 million” and “3 miles” highlighted In a muted red, which calls out the gravity of the problem and helps ground it in reality. This text appears over black-and-white broll footage of downtown LA, which helps sets the stage for this story about inner-city communities that struggle with food insecurity. The calm, wide drone footage gently introduces us to the setting in which the story takes place. It is a serious story, so starting in black and white helps set the somber tone. It also provides a good base on which the colored text can pop out at the viewer.
Use powerful, poetic messaging
Color is introduced as we see the star of the video, Ron Finley, holding a shovel and showing one hand handcuffed, in a frame within the black-and-white backdrop of downtown Los Angeles. We hear Ron say: “If you can’t feed yourself, you can’t free yourself.”
These words also appear on screen one by one, which drives the message home visually.
The image of Ron conjures memories of slavery, which stops the viewer in their tracks. It’s not all bad though—the image is in color, which signifies hope. Also, one hand is already unchained, and the shovel he is holding says “Freedom” on it, which signifies that having access to or even farming your own food will help set you free.
Use beautiful, eye-catching, inspirational visuals
Next, we see a series of close-up images of colorful fruit probably being grown in urban gardens, and we hear Ron say. “If you control your food, you control your future.”
The beautiful imagery of fruit signifies life, and it is a hopeful one. This strong message puts power back into the hands of the people who are truly suffering—those who don’t have access to freshly grown foods.
Use uplifting messaging that puts the power back into the hands of the oppressed
In response to Ron’s first message, “If you can’t feed yourself, you can’t free yourself,” his second message, “If you control your food, you control your future,” gives us hope and the start to a path forward. In the image that follows the fruit, we see Ron holding his Freedom shovel sitting in an urban garden.
Show the effect of the problem at hand
Ron goes on to introduce himself, and states that this message is for everyone located in food deserts in the US and around the world. He goes on to identify himself as someone who was born in South Central, which is known for being a relatively impoverished area of Los Angeles that has experienced gang violence and was the epicenter of major race riots in the 1960s and 1990s. South Central is considered a food desert, which is an area in which residents don’t have convenient access to fresh foods. Instead of having grocery stores and farmers markets, South Central is inundated with fast food chains and mini marts that don’t stock fresh foods.
Next, we see images of the streets of South Central. BBDO can’t show the names of fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King, which would’ve illustrated their point perfectly, so they got creative by showing a restaurant with a sign that reads “Fried Chicken” and people walking down busy streets with no fresh grocery stores in sight.
We hear Ron say, “There are over 20 million people living in food deserts in this country…places where people have to travel an average of 3 miles just to get a tomato that doesn’t come out of a can. That’s insane.” The camera cuts back to Ron’s face when he delivers the line, “that doesn’t come out of a can. That’s insane.” This is powerful because seeing someone say those words while looking into your eyes is more impactful than hearing them while watching broll.
Use music to set the pace and mood of the story
Until now, the music has been somber to signify the seriousness of the issue. At this point, music picks up and we hear drums and claps. The story is becoming more positive. Ron says, “It’s time for a food revolution. A food evolution!” We see broll of impactful signs reading “Gardening is the most defiant act,” “The closest carrot to me is 30 minutes away,” and “We are the soil.”
Next, we see Ron with his Freedom shovel starting a march, “Not a protest,” he clarifies. “No, that shit ain’t changin’ nothin’.”
“We walk together to show our people walking miles for food come to an end right now,” Ron declares. We watch as the group walks three miles from one historic location, Anacostia Park, to another, Constitution Gardens.
We see Ron and the group holding signs in front of the Federal Reserve, “Where they print their money,” Ron states. The group is there “To show that here, in the soil, is where we print our money.” Ron digs a hole and plants a piece of US currency. “The People’s Treasury,” he calls it.
He uses this visual metaphor to show that growing our own food is like printing our own money. Another great visual representation of this is when the filmmaker shows another piece of money being “planted” in a pot of soil and growing into a kale plant.
End the video with a strong call to action
We see women and children helping Ron plant food in the heart of the nation’s capital. Over these visuals, we hear Ron say, “So I ask, will you join me in fixing this broken system?”
“Plant some shit. The Gangster Gardener out,” Ron states, as the ground he shovels turns into the black end card. The end card reads “Start printing your own money.” The video ends on a note of inspiration and hope. It invites the viewer to start making a chance in their communities right away by directing them to planstomemoney.com.
This was a tremendous PSA produced by BBDO, and we applaud them on their work.