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The Advertising Council, Inc. Business Information, Profile, and History

war campaign public media

261 Madison Avenue, 11th Floor
New York, New York 10016
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives:

The Ad Council has endeavored to improve the lives of all Americans s ince first creating the category of public service advertising in 194 2.

History of The Advertising Council, Inc.

The Advertising Council, Inc., is a New York City-based not-for-profi t corporation that coordinates public service advertising campaigns, enlisting the volunteer services of advertising and communications co mpanies and media facilities, and distributes the public service anno uncements (PSAs) to media outlets that run them free of charge. All t old, the Ad Council receives about $1.3 billion in donated radio and television airtime and print space each year. The organization se rves both government agencies and other non-profit groups. Ad Council campaigns have included some of the best known advertising of the pa st half-century, including such well-known slogans as "A mind is a te rrible thing to waste," and "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." Advertising Council campaigns have also introduced several iconic cha racters, including Rosie the Riveter, Smokey the Bear, and McGruff th e Crime Dog.

Wartime Roots of PSAs in the Civil War

Public service advertising in America was usually related to war effo rts before the advent of the Ad Council. During the Civil War of the 1860s, for example, newspapers ran ads urged men to volunteer for the Army and made fundraising appeals to fund the war. During World War I, the U.S. government commissioned full-color posters to boost enlis tment, recruit workers for war industries, and sell Liberty bonds. Mu ch of the advertising work was done at cost and a lot of the media wa s donated, a harbinger of the Ad Council model a generation later. In the meantime, the concept of corporate advertising had emerged in th e early 1900s, as corporations and trade associations sought to sway public opinion on important issues of the day that affected commerce. During the difficult days of the 1930s, when America suffered throug h the Great Depression, business was held in a poor light by many. Th e advertising industry had its share of critics as well, and by the s tart of the 1940s advertisers felt pressure to justify its place in t he business world. The Association of National Advertisers and the Am erican Association of Advertising Agencies commissioned studies, and the Advertising Research Foundation conducted polls to gain an unders tanding of how advertising was viewed and what was its perceived purp ose. Not surprisingly, many in the industry wanted to develop an ad c ampaign to sell the idea of ad campaigns, to pitch the importance of advertising in creating jobs, lowering prices, and building wealth. W hen the two advertising associations decided to hold a joint meeting to discuss the plight of the industry in November 1941, one of the sp eakers took a different approach. His name was James Webb Young.

Young, whose formal education never went beyond eighth grade, worked his way up from office boy at the J. Walter Thompson agency to writer and eventually vice-president. In his 30 minute address at the joint meeting, Young maintained that the promotion of advertising lost sig ht of a more important goal, reviving confidence in business, of whic h advertising was a mere tool. But he went further, arguing that adve rtising should be used to promote the greater good: "It ought to be u sed to wipe out such diseases of ignorance as childbed fever. It ough t to do the nutritional job this country needs to have done. It ought to be the servant of music, of art, of literature and of all the for ces of righteousness." At the heart of Young's vision was an organiza tion, a council, that would marshal the resources of the advertising community to promote worthy social causes, funded by business but wit h freedom and autonomy. The nobility of the effort would redound favo rably on the reputation of advertising and business in general in the eyes of the public.

Young's call was taken up with enthusiasm by the attendees and commit tees were established to organize what the meeting minutes referred t o as "the new Advertising Council, or whatever it is to be called." B ut war was raging around the world and within a matter of weeks, the United States would be drawn into the conflict following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The war effort took preced ence, as virtually every industry rallied to the call to service, inc luding advertising. In 1942 the organization became known as the War Advertising Council. It operated out of both New York and Washington, D.C., under the auspices of the Office of War Information, funded by $100,000 raised from ad agencies and media associations.

Ad Council's World War II Effort

The War Council's first assignment was to convince Americans not to h oard vital materials needed in the war effort that were now to be rat ioned, including rubber, sugar, and wool. The first full-fledge Ad Co uncil campaign, also launched in 1942, was the sale of war bonds that would help finance the war. The campaign would run in some form unti l 1980, war bonds later becoming known as Savings Bonds. Also in 1942 the Ad Council created a campaign to urge Americans to be careful ab out discussing information that might be of interest to the enemy. On e slogan, "Loose Lips Sink Ships," would be remembered long after the war ended. Generally forgotten was "Keep it Under Your Stetson," a s logan that revealed a practice at the time of tying brand names to wa r ads. Not only did the companies involved pay for the ads, the gover nment believed it was important that trademarks be kept alive in the marketplace during a war of uncertain duration. Some companies went t oo far, however, placing what were called brag ads. Legendary adman R aymond Rubicam commented at the time, "A ball bearing manufacturer in formed us that the subject of ball bearings is on everyone's lips now adays, and sugar was an Axis-killer and castor beans had left the med icine cabinet for the battlefield." He also said that according to Ma dison Avenue air conditioners were responsible for sinking enemy ship s and water conditioners for destroying Panzer tanks. The War Adverti sing Council stepped in to curb this practice, which dissipated withi n a year.

The War Advertising Council also produced a campaign to recruit women workers for war industries, which had to deal with a shortage of wor kers because of the millions of men serving in the military. The effo rt was personified by the invention of Rose the Riveter, who proclaim ed to women, "We can do it!" Approximately two million women answered the call and went to work. Not only did their involvement help susta in the war economy, it began to change society's view of women's role outside of the home. It was also during the war, in 1944, that the A d Council launched its longest running campaign, Forest Fire Preventi on and its famous slogan, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires." At the time, the vast majority of forest fires were the result of accident, and the lack of available manpower hindered the government's ability to respond. Many conscientious objectors to the war, in fact, were r ecruited to fight the fires. Disney allowed Bambi to be used in the f irst poster, but the dear was soon replaced by an Ad Council creation that became an American icon: Smokey Bear, who would become Smokey t he Bear in the 1950s. It was also during World War II that the Ad Cou ncil established a 50-year relationship with the American Red Cross, helping the organization in blood drives, the recruitment of voluntee rs, and fund raising.

As the end of the war neared in 1945, President Roosevelt, before his death, urged the War Advertising Council to remain active after the peace. By now, the image of American business was much improved and J ames Young's vision for the Ad Council had been affirmed, as it becam e apparent that public service provided business with the kind of pos itive public relations no amount of money could buy. Theodore Repplie r, who served as the War Advertising Council's executive director, co mmented, "The war never stopped. Only the enemy has changed." The org anization reverted back to The Advertising Council name and in 1947 R epplier was named its first president.

After the war, the Ad Council continued to urge forest fire preventio n, sell savings bonds, and work with the Red Cross. It also launched campaigns that dealt with veteran's rights and housing, tolerance for religious and ethnic groups, the danger of nuclear weapons, and the value of world trade. In 1947 the Ad Council began working with the N ational Safety Council in an effort to cut down the staggering number of highway fatalities. With the onset of the Cold War between Commun ist countries and the West, the Ad Council supported Radio Free Europ e and promoted freedom and free enterprise. During the 1950s the orga nization moved beyond radio, print ads, and billboards to use comic b ooks and television. Perhaps the most important, and successful Ad Co uncil campaign of the 1950s was the drive to get parents to have thei r children immunized against Polio, a childhood scourge for many year s. Also during the 1950s the Ad Council formed the Campaigns Review C ommittee to examine each campaign at every stage of its development a nd execution in an effort to make it as effective as possible.

New Projects in the 1960s

The Ad Council tackled a number of new subjects in the 1960s. It was also during this period that advertisers ceased to sponsor their own television shows and the networks took control of programming. As a r esult, the influence of advertisers on Ad Council spots was diminishe d. The organization also refined its operating procedure, as agencies donated their efforts to create the advertising and media companies ran the campaigns free of charge. In 1961 the Ad Council began promot ing the Peace Corps, the volunteer organization envisioned by Preside nt Kennedy. The recruitment effort would last three decades.

Pollution was becoming a concern in America and in 1961 the Ad Counci l launched the Keep American Beautiful campaign, which ran until 1983 . It originally focused on "litter bugs," but also dramatized the eff ects of other forms of pollution. The best known television spot in t he campaign was aired on Earth Day in 1971 and featured a tearful Nat ive American actor, Iron Eyes Cody, and the slogan, "People start pol lution. People can stop it." Called "The Crying Indian," the PSA won a pair of Clios and was ranked 50th among the top 100 advertising cam paigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age magazine. "It also repres ent what some critics believed was wrong with the Ad Council," accord ing to John McDonough writing for Advertising Age. "The Keep A merican Beautiful campaign rested on the premise that 'people start p ollution, people can stop it.' But what people and how? 'The damage d one by litter is ... inconsequential.' writer Kennen Peck noted in The Progressive in 1983, 'compared to the damage done by industr ial pollution ...' While different versions of the '70s campaign spot s showed smokestacks as well as garbage, critics argued that by placi ng responsibility for pollution on individuals rather than institutio ns, the campaign was a powerful political decoy devised by corporate interests to divert public attention from the real issues of industri al waste."

Criticism was not new to the Ad Council, however. In the beginning, R epublicans accused the organization of being an arm of the Roosevelt reelection effort, and others claimed the Ad Council was only trying to prevent the taxation of advertising. In 1950 one headline-seeking politician claimed that the Ad Council, along with the Ford Foundatio n, was little more than a Communist Front. The Ad Council was also cr iticized in the 1960s for being slow to recognize the plight of minor ities and the conditions in America's urban centers. In response, the organization began addressing more sensitive topics. During the 1970 s the Ad Council began its work on behalf of the United Negro College Fund, best known for the slogan, "A mind as a terrible thing to wast e." During the 1970s the Ad Council also tackled once-taboo subjects like venereal disease and child abuse. Also of note in the 1970s, the Ad Council began working with the National Crime Prevention Council, urging Americans to "Take a bite out of crime," as espoused by one o f the Ad Council's most popular characters, the trench coat-wearing M cGruff the Crime Dog, who would issue a wealth of safety tips to chil dren and adults alike.

In the 1980s, Ad Council campaigns took on drug abuse. At the behest of First Lady Nancy Regan, it created the "Just Say No" campaign, and later in the decade began to work with the Partnership for a Drug-Fr ee America. Also in the 1980s the Ad Council launched a Drunk Driving Prevention campaign, which coined the slogan, "Friends Don't Let Fri ends Drive Drunk," as well as a Safety Belt Education campaign that f eatured Vince & Larry, the Crash Test Dummies and the tagline, "Y ou Could Learn A Lot From a Dummy." While the anti-drug campaigns had little impact, the auto safety efforts proved highly effective. In 1 988 the Ad Council tackled the controversial issue of AIDS, urging pr evention through the use of condoms.

International Influence in 1990s and Beyond

The 1990s saw the Ad Council extend its influence beyond North Americ a. With the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the Ad Council helpe d in the organization of volunteer Ad Councils in emerging democracie s such as Russia and the Ukraine. It also aided similar efforts in ot her countries, including Belgium and Thailand. In 1994 the Ad Council launched a campaign to prevent domestic violence. It was at this poi nt that the organization decided that instead of targeting a wide var iety of messages it would focus much of its resources on a single top ic: children. In 1995 the Ad Council announced the initiative, "Commi tment 2000: Raising a Better Tomorrow," a 10-year effort that would p ursue a range of issues relating to children, from violence to educat ion and healthcare. Some of the current campaigns, such as drunk driv ing, would be recast to include children.

While the Ad Council might have focused its mission, it still remaine d ready to respond to new challenges. In the aftermath of the Septemb er 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the organization was quick to become involved. Employees of Texas ad agency GSDM&M were in Maryland in a client meeting when the attacks unfolded. As they drove home to Te xas (because air flights were suspended) they decided to create a PSA that celebrated America's diversity. The agency's president contacte d the Ad Council about being a partner in the endeavor, and for the f irst time in its history the Ad Council became the sole signatory of a PSA. The result was the "I am an American" spot, featuring a wide r ange of men and women, young and old, of different races declaring "I am an American." The spot was on the air within ten days of the atta cks.

Also during this time, three advertising industry associations met to plan an advertising campaign to celebrate freedom. The Ad Council wa s enlisted to manage the Campaign for Freedom. Unlike traditional Ad Council campaigns that were developed by a single agency, this would be the joint work of four agencies, and instead of relying on the bac king of a sponsoring organization, the Ad Council itself raised the n ecessary funds to cover costs. After several months of development, t he Campaign for Freedom was ready to launch in time for the Fourth of July holiday in 2002. A second phase was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The campaign evolved into a long-term effort called "Explore Freedom."

While the essential mission of the Ad Council remained unchanged, the organization was finding new ways to disseminate its messages. Just as it was quick to embrace television in the 1950s, it seized on the possibilities of the Internet as early as 1998, not only advertising on the Web but serving as a host. As Nat Ives wrote in the New Yor k Times in 2005, "These days, Ad Council campaigns receive exposu re in forms like Internet video, e-cards from American Greetings, tax i-top signs and video kiosks in stores. Google supports the campaigns through a grant program that allows nonprofit groups to secure keywo rd search terms; when Web surfers enter searches for those terms, lin ks to public service ads appear next to the regular search results." The Ad Council was also taking steps to improve the television time s lots for its PSAs, typically relegated to the early morning hours. Th e organization created what it called an "upfront" model that allowed media companies to determine what issues they wanted to support and time commitments could be secured ahead of time. As a result of these changes, the Ad Council, more than 60 years old, remained a vital fo rce in American culture.

Principal Divisions: Campaign Review; Industries Advisory; Med ia; Public Issues Advisory.

Chronology

  • Key Dates:
  • 1941: Advertising associations meet to plan Advertising Counci l.
  • 1942: Ad Council formed and becomes The War Advertising Counci l for duration of World War II.
  • 1943: Rosie the Riveter is created.
  • 1944: Smokey Bear character is created.
  • 1958: A polio vaccine campaign is launched.
  • 1962: The Peace Corps campaign is launched.
  • 1972: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" tagline is coined for the United Negro College Fund campaign.
  • 1988: An AIDS prevention campaign is launched.
  • 2002: Campaign For Freedom, a joint venture with three other a gencies, is launched.
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