The Ad Council was founded in 1942 by members of the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies as an independent, non-profit organization that uses advertising to encourage individual action on important social issues.
In fulfilling its mission to "deliver the messages America needs to hear," the Ad Council, in concert with ad agencies working on a pro bono basis, has produced some of advertising's most memorable and compelling spokescharacters (Rosie the Riveter, Smokey Bear and Larry the Crash Dummy) and slogans ("Loose lips sink ships" and "Friends don't let friends drive drunk"). Its success has inspired similar organizations in Canada, Japan, Eastern Europe, the Netherlands, India and Russia.
Funded by private donations, each campaign represents a five-part coalition consisting of: the Ad Council; a sponsoring not-for-profit public-service organization, foundation, or government agency; a volunteer executive coordinator from a major company; volunteer writers, designers, and producers at an ad agency; and national and local media outlets that donate time and space to deliver the messages.
The lone exception to this is a campaign the Ad Council started on its own as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, called Campaign for Freedom. The campaign was designed to celebrate the country's freedom as well as to remind Americans about the importance of freedom and the need to protect it for future generations.
To be considered by the Ad Council, a project must be of national significance and have wide public appeal. It must be non-commercial, non-denominational, non-partisan and not intended to influence legislation. The Ad Council's campaigns do not promote individual organizations but rather call for participation in worthy activities?giving blood, donating an organ, preventing crime, voting, recycling, volunteering or wearing safety belts.
Foundations in war
In November 1941 leaders of the ANA and Four A's met to discuss the anti-advertising sentiment prevailing in the U.S. after a decade of economic depression. James Webb Young of the J. Walter Thompson Co. suggested that "a greater use of advertising for social, political and philanthropic purposes will help immeasurably to remove the distaste for advertising which now exists among many influential people."
Less than one month later the U.S. entered World War II. In February 1942, the Advertising Council was renamed the War Advertising Council to support nonmilitary war efforts. It created more than 150 advertising campaigns that
They helped raise more than $35 million in war bonds; promoted the planting of 50 million victory gardens; recruited more than 2 million women into the workforce; and salvaged and recycled tons of necessary commodities such as fat, rubber and metal.
By the end of the war, more than $1 billion in labor hours and media time and space had been donated to the council's campaigns. Before the war ended, President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the council continue its efforts in peacetime, which reverted to its original name, the Advertising Council.
Three of the Ad Council's longest-running campaigns grew out of the war effort and continue today for the American Red Cross, the United Way and the U.S. Forest Service. For the latter, the figure of Smokey Bear was created in 1947 as part of a campaign by Foote, Cone & Belding that urged individual responsibility with the slogan, "Only you can prevent forest fires."
One of the council's first major peacetime campaigns was created for the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe to address devastation and starvation in postwar Europe. N.W. Ayer created the campaign featuring flying "CARE packages," which ran for 10 years.
One of the council's most effective TV efforts was for the recruitment of Peace Corps volunteers. Ayer created "The toughest job you'll ever love" slogan while Young & Rubicam produced the corps' best-remembered TV spot, "Beach," in which attractive, middle-class college students are shown lazily sunbathing on the beach, oblivious to a portable radio nearby on which an announcer details problems and miseries being endured by the less fortunate around the world.
In the early 1970s, Y&R created the slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," for the United Negro College Fund; the slogan is still in use and has helped raise more than $1.4 billion. The "Crying Indian" TV spot created in 1971 by Marstellar for Keep America Beautiful is considered a classic. In this spot, Native American Iron Eyes Cody, wearing traditional garb, paddled a canoe down a river; as he banked the canoe, he shed a single, eloquent tear over the land and water ravaged by litter and pollution.
Child abuse, crime, drunk driving, and drug abuse became national concerns beginning in the late 1970s. In 1978, Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample introduced the "Take a bite out of crime" campaign with canine detective Crime Dog McGruff as a symbol of crime prevention.
In the mid-1980s, a powerful coalition that included the Ad Council, 200 agencies, and virtually all national media mounted a massive three-year battle against drug abuse through the Media-Advertising Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
By 1992, the council's 50th anniversary, more than $60 billion of media exposure and millions of dollars of creative talent had been donated to Ad Council campaigns.
But the Ad Council was facing new challenges in the 1990s, including competition for public service time. In 1995, the council decided that while it would continue to support its longest-running campaigns, it would concentrate new endeavors around a single issue?the needs of children.
In addition to its traditional work, the council has developed banners for Web placement. Working together, the Ad Council and the Internet Advertising Bureau encourage Internet publishers to donate 5% of their advertising space to banner public service announcements. The council also has developed its own comprehensive Web site, www.adcouncil.org.