Rosie the Riveter (1942-45, J. Walter Thompson) With the men fighting overseas, women were enlisted on the home front to keep industry moving, thanks to the recruitment efforts of the tough, dedicated, but nonetheless feminine Rosie-a JWT creation for the War Manpower Commission. Though millions of Rosies were disinvited from the economy when the GIs returned, they established themselves as the equals of men in the workplace, presaging the feminist revolution decades later.
Smokey Bear (1944-present, Foote, Cone & Belding) A grizzly in a Forest Ranger's hat? How did Leo Burnett not do this campaign? Or Hanna-Barbera? Witty it is not, but Smokey single-pawedly persuaded Americans to be careful at their campsites, reducing the destruction of forest acreage annually by 81%.
Peace Corps (1961-1991, Ted Bates Co., Young & Rubicam) President Kennedy had the vision, but advertising closed the sale. The notion of leaving the comforts of home to go inoculate cattle in Zambia was initially confusing, if not ludicrous, to even the most idealistic young Americans until the ad headline couched the matter as self-actualization: "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love." By 1965, according to the Ad Council, more than 1,000 people per week were clipping and returning request-for-information forms from the ads.
Radio Free Europe (1965, Doyle Dane Bernbach) A Czech disc jockey spins records, bringing Western culture to those enslaved behind the Iron Curtain. Listening to his patter leading into the Drifters' "On Broadway" was like listening to Pushkin in Russian. Even though you don't understand the words, it's still stirring and poetic.
Buckle Up for Safety (1962, Needham, Harper & Steers) The National Safety Council gave us one of the more insipid jingles ever wrought: "Buckle up for safety, buckle up..." Also one of the most memorable. Nearly 40 years later, it still goes through my head every time I get into a car. And so I buckle up, if only to make THOSE DAMNED VOICES GO AWAY!
Iron Eyes Cody (1971, Marstellar Inc.) The Indian on horseback, the very symbol of dignity and respect for the natural world, is brought to tears by pollutants in the air, water and land. (Or maybe he was just scouting a casino location.) Either way, the message shamed Americans into accepting responsibility for their environment. The image is as iconic as any in public-service history.
United Negro College Fund (1972-present, Young & Rubicam) Back when "Negro" wasn't an epithet, when discrimination was rampant and opportunity limited, someone figured out that to get to the heart of the matter, the focus should be on brain matter. To wit: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." This neatly sidestepped racial politics by presenting the issue as the squandering of precious intellectual resources.
Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk (1983-present, DDB) One more campaign that helped alter behavior on a mass scale. Since the "Get the keys" spots began, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 68% of Americans exposed to the campaign have intervened to keep-or, at least, try to keep -a potential drunken driver off the road. (How many fistfights ensued is not a statistic the government collects.)
Innocent Victims (1992-present, DDB) America's unfunniest home videos. This is another anti-DWI campaign, aimed at the potential drunken drivers themselves. It shows ordinary video excerpts, mostly of children being children, then reveals the subject to have been killed in a drunken-driving accident. Substituting faces and documented lives for cold statistics is poignant, painful and extraordinarily effective.