Selling the U.S.A.

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Nearly 10 months after Sept. 11, the advertising industry today unveils its ultimate response, a series of Campaign for Freedom messages from the Advertising Council intended to remind Americans what America stands for.

After months of planning and competition among ad agencies, the TV spots, set to break tonight and expected to get heavy play this week, carry a "freedom, appreciate it, cherish it, protect it" tagline developed by one of the agencies producing the spots, DeVito/Verdi, New York.

One spot from DeVito/Verdi suggests "terrorists tried to change America forever," and pictures a row of houses in Bayonne, N.J. Then voice-over says, "They succeeded," and switches to a picture of the houses decked out with American flags.

Other spots were produced from agencies including Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe, New York; Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, and print from Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day. Some suggest what America would be like without freedom. Others dramatize the innovation and range of choices American freedom brings using as examples public schools, the oratory of Martin Luther King, medical care and a vast selection of grocery choices.

unity and strength

The Ad Council intends for the spots, which so far have cost $700,000 to produce and distribute, to revive the feelings of unity and strength that immediately followed the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It has been nine months and people have begun to turn their attention to other things," said Peggy Conlon, Ad Council president-CEO. "The Fourth of July is a great time to focus the American people on their freedoms and stimulate a dialogue on what makes this country special."

The only entity listed in the ads as a sponsor is the Ad Council, which is trying to raise money from the ad industry to support the production and distribution, rather than relying on non-profit partners.

Phil Dusenberry, Omnicom's BBDO North America retired chairman, heads the Campaign for Freedom creative effort and once helped produce patriotic ads for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaigns. "Right after 9/11 there was a terrific upsurge in patriotism but it kind of waned as other things came into play like the economy. We wanted to kick-start those positive feelings about freedom all over again. It's a true blessing," he said.


Mr. Dusenberry said people in other places want to take Americans' freedom away and the campaign is an effort to show that freedom can't be taken for granted. "The objective is to get people to ratchet up their sense of freedom," he said adding that unlike most advertising that is intended to get people to do something, the main intent of this campaign is to get people to "feel proud."

Michael Sennott, a consultant at Interpublic, directs the strategic response for the Freedom Campaign. The Ad Council hopes the spots will air frequently and run for several years and already has commitments from a number of networks and cable companies to air the spots. It is also readying radio and at least two more flights of TV spots from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and from Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide.

While the spots were drawn up months ago to demonstrate American freedoms and weren't intended to be controversial, several could become so.

One spot from DeVito/Verdi pictures a minister finishing his service warning his congregation to be careful as they covertly leave a hidden basement meeting place. It ends with "What if America wasn't America?" The ad is appearing, however, a month after FBI guidelines allowing agents to monitor religious meetings drew criticism, including charges from U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., that they "threaten the private practice of religion and constitute a war on freedom, not a war on terror," a charge a top Justice Department official denied.

Another spot from DeVito/Verdi about a person in a library being targeted for looking for a banned book and one from DDB about a man being arrested for having a banned newspaper could also draw attention to the FBI guidelines.

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