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December 17, 2003
Advertising That Makes a Difference

A business professor at Emory University once said, “PSAs create a better person. Not a buying person.”

Anyone who has spent time working in the advertising industry has seen the power of ads to tap into the psyche of consumers and influence their purchasing behavior, but I think most people would be surprised to realize that advertising has also encouraged 70% of Americans to stop someone from driving drunk.

It has also helped to raise more than $2 billion for the United Negro College Fund and graduated more than 300,000 minority students from college since 1972.

More recently, since the launch of a campaign created in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (October 2002 through June 2003), the non-profit experienced a 75% increase in applications for mentors.

And the list goes on and on...

Had it not been for PSAs, domestic violence and child abuse might still be issues that no one talks about and “One More for the Road” may never have given way to “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.”

As President & CEO of the Ad Council, I have the opportunity to lead a private, non-profit organization that works to create positive social change on behalf of more than 50 significant social issues, ranging from stroke awareness to homeland security.

Most Americans recognize our logo and the memorable characters we have created, such as Smokey Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, The Crying Indian and the Crash Test Dummies…but what they do not realize is that the Ad Council is more than a single organization. It is the embodiment of the pro bono and charitable contributions of the communications industry. It is a collaboration of literally hundreds of corporations, agencies and media outlets that donate their time, talent and resources to use the power of communications to change attitudes and behavior and create positive social change.

The Ad Council partners with national non-profit organizations and federal government agencies to develop PSA campaigns to further the reach of their important messages. The nation’s top advertising agencies create the work pro bono and the media donates advertising time and space to run them. As a result of the media’s confidence in the significance and quality of our work, our messages have been delivered to generations of Americans. In fact, during each of the last 4 years, Ad Council campaigns have received more than $1 billion in donated advertising time and space.

The advertising industry is at the heart of our success because without the brilliant creative produced by our volunteer advertising agencies we would not have the ability to influence Americans to take action on behalf of so many critical issues. Our founders envisioned the Ad Council as “Advertising’s Gift to America.”

Every year, more than 40 ad agencies throughout the country each donate between $250,000 and $1 million in strategic and creative services on behalf of an Ad Council campaign. Our agencies come to us via the American Association of Advertising Agencies and as you might imagine, we never have a shortage of volunteers. Advertising professionals volunteer because they either have a personal connection to an issue or experience targeting a certain group. Whatever the reason, we are grateful for their contribution.

It is difficult to articulate the rewards our copywriters, creative directors and others who devote countless hours to the campaign receive—both internally and externally. Whether they are encouraging Americans to get tested for colon cancer or urging all Americans to celebrate freedom, they come away with the gratification that they have contributed to something truly important which often creates lasting change.

I don’t think that there is anything more gratifying than knowing you’re making a difference in people’s lives and we’re constantly reminded of the impact of our work through phone calls and emails such as this message that we received last year…

I just wanted to say how much your commercials have helped me. I am 17 and your drunk driving commercials have really touched me. I am one less person you have to worry about when it comes to drinking and driving. Also I will stop my friends if I can. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!! (Sincerely, A. Walk)

Today, despite what we have accomplished together, there is much more to do and the industry’s involvement is more important than ever. There is more to do when so many parents have to choose between paying rent and feeding their children; when nearly 40% of fourth graders read below grade level and one-third of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend. And certainly there is more to do in a world where 14 million children have been orphaned because of AIDS.

It has been said that—"Statistics do not bleed." Numbers do not capture the loneliness of a child without a father or the grief of someone who lost a loved one due to a drunk driver or gun violence. Nor do they capture the opportunity an innocent child loses because she can’t read. Incredible emotion can be portrayed through advertising and can transcend the statistics and inspire people to take action.

Whichever side of the industry you represent—media or creative—that is what your contribution can do—touch people in profound ways. Without the commitment, dedication, talent and generosity of this industry, the Ad Council would not have the ability to raise awareness, inspire action and, ultimately, save lives.

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Peggy Conlon believes advertising can make a positive difference in the world. Peggy is the CEO of the Ad Council, which oversees nearly $2 billion in ad time and space. The Ad Council promotes awareness of issues such as the environment, at-risk teenagers, and health matters. 

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