Taking shape in the immediate aftershocks of Pearl Harbor, the War Advertising Council came into being early in 1942 as a vehicle to publicize a variety of non-military activities related to the war effort.
Then as now, campaigns were created by ad agency volunteers and coordinated by volunteers from corporate advertising, communications or public affairs departments. Space and time were donated by the media.
After the war, the organization was renamed the Advertising Council, and its energies were redirected to peacetime causes.
One of the council's early watershed efforts was aimed at preventing forest fires. The long-running campaign's icon, Smokey Bear, was created by Foote, Cone & Belding, Los Angeles. First used in print and later in TV, Smokey stands as one of the most enduring and recognizable symbols in advertising history.
Other major campaigns include those focusing on alcohol and drug abuse, auto safety, child abuse, racism, education, the Peace Corps and the environment.
One of the most acclaimed Ad Council TV spots, titled "Indian in canoe," first ran in 1971. As part of the "Keep American Beautiful" campaign, the 30-second spot done by Marsteller Inc. (since merged into Young & Rubicam) opened with an Indian in a canoe and then showed him reacting-with increasing distress and ultimately tears-to the pollution and desecration of the landscape around him.
Among the noted slogans developed for public service campaigns: "The mind is a terrible thing to waste" (United Negro College Fund, from Y&R), "The toughest job you'll ever love" (Peace Corps, from Ted Bates & Co.) and "Drinking and driving can kill a friendship" (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from FCB/Leber Katz Partners).
Although the Ad Council is by far the largest factor in public service advertising in the U.S., it's by no means the only one.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America was formed in 1986, and there are numerous regional and local groups that develop public service advertising for TV.
In 1993, PSAs developed for TV by the Ad Council alone occupied donated air time worth about $250 million, according to Paula Veale, the council's VP-PR, who points out that if it were an ad agency, it would rank among the top 20 in the U.S.M
Ad Council's "Indian in canoe" spot first appeared in 1971.