From straight-out creep-fests to pop star cameos, it’s always fascinating to see how organizations and utilities approach the topic of home water conservation in public awareness campaigns. By their very nature, PSAs are hokey, hoary, and generally unmemorable affairs that might be filled the useful information but ultimately fail to truly grab your attention. An effective environmental PSA needs to be fresh, it needs to be different, and it needs to be a bit unorthodox. It needs to have a hook. Most importantly, it needs to get people talking but without resorting to pure ridiculousness. After all, in the end, the ad does need to be taken seriously.

As part of a widespread effort to encourage residents to take shorter showers, cut back on the lawn watering, fix leaky faucets, and employ other basic (read: easy) water-conserving measures around the house, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has employed a bit of good, old-fashioned sexiness — a baritone-voiced narrator, porn-y R&B background music, innuendo aplenty, and some suggestive visuals including gratuitous soaping and toilet handle fondling — in a new drought-awareness campaign launched earlier this week.

In addition to the steamy 30-second TV spots, the SFPUC, which previously resorted to toilet humor in a sewer awareness campaign (“Your #2 is my #1”), is also plastering head-turning print ads around town that sport naughty — yet oh-so apropos — emphasis words and phrases like “Quickie,” “Dirty Hands,” and “Doing It.”

"It's somewhat provocative, and it's intended to be provocative," Vince Courtney of the SFPUC tells the San Francisco Chronicle of the $300,000, created-in-house ad blitz. The utility hopes that by going the sexy/silly/serious route, 2.6 million customers will listen up and reduce their water usage by 10 percent. This translates to a staggering 8 billions of water conserved by the end of the year although, as the SFPUC points out, only 1.4 billions of water have been saved by customers to-date. On a positive note, things have gotten better in recent weeks with water use on the decline. But as SFPUC general manager Harlan L. Kelly Jr. explains in a press announcement: “We are not out of the woods yet. Mandatory rationing is still on the table. Every customer needs to redouble their conservation efforts so we can stretch water supplies into 2015 and beyond.”

So will a bit of nudge-nudge, wink-wink help San Francisco residents avoid being subjected to totally unsexy mandatory water rationing during California's historic, three-year dry spell? Can suggestive print and TV ads help sell water conservation?

It has worked like magic with at least one person: “I thought the ads were hilarious. I think they will be effective, for the main reason that people in San Francisco like to be environmentally conscious but probably don’t realize what a severe drought we’re going through,” San Francisco resident Afeef Ahmed tells ABC News. “These ads are memorable.”

Via [Co.Exist], [SFGate], [ABC News]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

San Francisco wants to seduce you into conserving water this summer
The city's water utility releases a series of racy print ads and TV spots that may leave some residents requiring a cold shower ... but make it a short one.