And since 1945, the Ad Council has been the voice for that conscience, becoming the most robust national entity of its kind anywhere on the globe.
Founded in 1942 as the War Advertising Council, its original mission was to aid the government in promoting stateside efforts for the Allies.
But industry giants predicted the council could revolutionize advertising, showing it could tout not just the merits of a Lucky Strike or new Ford but also the personal responsibility inherent in smoking or driving.
The council's founding could "help immeasurably to remove the distaste for advertising that now exists among many influential people," James Webb Young, then a consultant to J. Walter Thompson Co., suggested at the 1941 meeting of the Association of National Advertisers-American Association of Advertising Agencies, where the council was conceived.
During the course of the war, the council garnered $1 billion in donated media space and work time on developing war-related campaigns and promoting cost-saving gestures. Americans responded by planting victory gardens and buying $35 billion in war bonds.
But with war's end in 1945, the Ad Council dropped "War" from the organization's name and expanded its platform, armed with TV as a new advertising medium, audience momentum built off war-related campaigns and endorsements from President Roosevelt.
In 1942, the council elected Theo-dore Repplier, Young & Rubicam copy chief, to lead it into the gray area between government platforms and corporate citizenship.
Soon, "business" began booming. N.W. Ayer & Son and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne created the CARE campaign that lasted 10 years and moved Americans to give money for foreign hunger relief and "CARE packages." Foote, Cone & Belding, Los Angeles, used a wartime fire prevention campaign to create a character known worldwide as Smokey Bear.
The 32 campaigns noted on the April 1, 1945, list of current projects dealt first with postwar and reconstruction movements, including a recruiting campaign for the American Hospital Association, promoting savings bonds for the U.S. Treasury and introducing driving safety announcements when gas rations were lifted.
But they later expanded into other causes, like the Crop Corps of volunteer farmers, tin and paper salvage efforts, promotion of the junior Red Cross and Girl Scouts, information on income taxes, and other peacetime fronts.
Since 1945, roughly $20 billion in donated time and money has been used for domestic media, agencies and executives steering Ad Council PSA campaigns, said Brad Lynch, former spokesman for both Ayer and the council.
The Japan Ad Council, founded in the early 1970s, is the only body with a scope similar to the U.S.', said Paula Veale, Ad Council VP-public relations.
Reginald Brack, chairman of Time Inc. and outgoing Ad Council chairman, and Norman Vale, director-general of the International Advertising Association, said that there has been a recent shift in public service work toward general platforms, or "wars" on issues.
An example of this is the Ad Council's newly launched "Commitment 2000" under which the council and its members will devote the next decade to campaigns for creating a better future for youth.