Ad Council Campaigns That Have Made a Difference

During the past 60 years, the Ad Council has developed hundreds of public service advertising campaigns. The selected campaigns described below are more than memorable — they have made a measurable difference in our society. From “Loose Lips Sink Ships” in 1942 to “I am an American” in 2001, these PSAs prove the tremendous impact of public service advertising in America.

Women in War Jobs — Rosie the Riveter (1942 – 1945)

The most successful advertising recruitment campaign in American history, this powerful symbol recruited two million women into the workforce to support the war economy. The underlying theme was that the social change required to bring women into the workforce was a patriotic responsibility for women and employers. Those ads made a tremendous change in the relationship between women and the workplace. Employment outside of the home became socially acceptable and even desirable.

Sponsors: Office of War Information, War Manpower Commission
Volunteer Agency: J. Walter Thompson
Learn more >>


Savings Bonds (1942 – 1980)

The Savings (or War) Bonds campaign was not only the organization’s first campaign, but also its most successful campaign to date. Begun in 1942 by the then War Advertising Council, the campaign encouraged Americans to support the war effort by purchasing war bonds. By the time the campaign ended 38 years later, 85 million Americans had purchased $35 billion in War/Savings Bonds.

Sponsor: U.S. Department of Treasury (War Finance Agency)
Volunteer Agency: Leo Burnett
Learn more >>


Security of War Information — Loose Lips Sink Ships (1942 – 1945)

The War Advertising Council’s “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “Keep it Under Your Stetson” public service ads reminding Americans of the dangers of revealing too much information are still remembered today. The campaign encouraged Americans to be discreet in their communication to prevent information from being leaked to the enemy during World War II.

Sponsors: The Office of War Information, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Learn more >>


Forest Fire Prevention — Smokey Bear (1944 – Present)

The longest running campaign in Ad Council history, Smokey Bear and his famous warning, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” was introduced to Americans in 1944. The Forest Fire Prevention campaign has reduced the number of acres lost annually from 22 million to 4 million. Responding to the massive outbreak of wildfires in 2000, the campaign changed its focus to wildfires and Smokey’s slogan to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.”

Sponsors: USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters
Volunteer Agency: FCB-Southern California
Learn more >>


American Red Cross (1945 – 1996)

The Ad Council worked with the American Red Cross on public service advertising campaigns for more than 50 years. The PSAs raised public awareness of the various services provided by the Red Cross. They helped recruit blood donors, enlist volunteers and raise funds. In fact, the ads helped to recruit 30,000 volunteers in just one month. In two years, the recruitment campaign increased young adult involvement in the Red Cross by 37%. Additionally, in 1972, a special emergency campaign helped raise more than $15 million for the victims of Hurricane Agnes. Through the years, these campaigns informed the public about steps that they could take to prevent and cope with health problems.

Sponsor: American Red Cross
Volunteer Agency: J. Walter Thompson
Learn more >>


Pollution: Keep America Beautiful — Iron Eyes Cody (1953 – 1983)

More than four decades ago, the Ad Council partnered with Keep America Beautiful to create a powerful visual image that dramatize how litter and other forms of pollution were hurting the environment, and how every individual has the responsibility to help protect it. The ad, which featured actor Iron Eyes Cody, “The Crying Indian,” first aired on Earth Day in 1971. Created by ad agency Marstellar, Inc., the campaign used the line, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” The ad became one of the most memorable and successful campaigns in advertising history and was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age Magazine.

Sponsor: Keep America Beautiful
Volunteer Agency: Marsteller, Inc.
Learn more >>


Polio (1958 – 1961)

Although new horrors like AIDS have emerged, other diseases, such as polio, have all but disappeared. Advertising helped make this possible. Initially, the country responded very slowly to the new vaccine for paralytic polio. Three sets of shots were required at first, and it took an extended and repetitive advertising effort to get 80% of the at-risk populace fully immunized. Through April of 1960, inoculations had increased to 91.1 million, from 79 million the previous year.

Sponsor: Centers for Disease Control
Volunteer Agency: Harrison Maldonado and Associates
Learn more >>


Peace Corps (1961 – 1991)

In 1961, many Americans didn’t understand President Kennedy’s Peace Corps program. To that end, The Ad Council and ad agency Young & Rubicam developed a campaign that captured the spirit and the nobility of purpose of the program. Ad agency Ted Bates & Co. created the slogan that conveyed its hardship and rewards — “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” The ads challenged young people and began attracting volunteers to the program almost immediately. In 1962, shortly after the campaign began, more than 30,000 people applied to the Peace Corps. By 1965, more than a thousand people a week were clipping and mailing coupons from the ads, and by 1991, 30 percent of current Peace Corps volunteers were reached through the Ad Council’s recruitment campaign.

Sponsor: Peace Corps
Volunteer Agencies: Young & Rubicam; Ted Bates & Co.
Learn more >>


United Negro College Fund (1972 – Present)

Launched in 1972 to encourage Americans to support the United Negro College Fund, this campaign has helped raise more than $1.9 billion and has helped to graduate more than 300,000 minority students from college or beyond. The slogan, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste,” has remained unchanged for more than three decades and has become part of the American vernacular.

Sponsor: United Negro College Fund
Volunteer Agency: Young & Rubicam
Learn more >>


Child Abuse Prevention (1976 – Present)

In 1976, the Ad Council and The National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse (NCPCA) began raising awareness of a hidden crisis — more than one million children in the United States were being abused each year. In the first month of the campaign, more than 40,000 people responded with letters to the NCPCA, and a 1982 survey showed that nine out of ten people believed that child abuse was a major social problem. The campaign evolved toward offering practical solutions and ad agency Lowe recently created new ads to encourage people to get involved in the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Sponsor: National Committee for The Prevention of Child Abuse
Volunteer Agencies: Campbell Ewald; Bayer Bess Vanderwarker; Foote, Cone & Belding (Chicago); Cronin & Company, Inc.: Euro RSCG Tatham (Chicago); Lowe
Learn more >>


Crime Prevention — McGruff the Crime Dog (1979 – Present)

More than twenty years ago, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Ad Council introduced McGruff the Crime Dog(tm) to the nation and began encouraging Americans to help “Take a Bite out of Crime(tm).” Today, more than 93% of children recognize the icon that provides safety tips for adults and kids. Over the years, the Crime Prevention campaign has helped teach kids, teens, and adults about violence and drugs, and the PSAs have inspired all citizens to get involved in building safer, more caring communities.

Sponsor: The National Crime Prevention Council
Volunteer Agencies: Saatchi & Saatchi, Vidal, Reynardus & Moya (The Vidal Partnership), Deutsch, Inc.
Learn more >>


Drunk Driving Prevention (1983 – Present)

Since launching this campaign in 1983, more than 68% of Americans exposed to the advertising have tried to prevent someone from driving drunk. In 1998, America experienced its lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping records. Campaign taglines have included: “Drinking & Driving Can Kill A Friendship” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.”

Sponsor: U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Volunteer Agency: DDB Worldwide, New York
Learn more >>


Seat Belt Education (1985 – Present)

The single most effective protection against death and serious injury in a car crash is the seat belt. Since Vince & Larry, the Crash Test Dummies, were introduced to the American public in 1985, seat belt usage has increased from 21% to 73%, saving an estimated 75,000 lives. The campaign tagline, “You Could Learn A Lot From a Dummy,” as well as the crash test dummies themselves, was retired in 1999, when the U.S. Department of Transportation revised the campaign to target part-time seat belt users. The new slogan, “Buckle Up. Always,” has been running ever since.

Sponsor: U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Volunteer Agency: Leo Burnett, USA
Learn more >>


AIDS Prevention (1988 – 1989)

Launched in September of 1988, this groundbreaking ad was part of the first campaign to use the word “condom” in America. The ads informed Americans of the dangers of the AIDS virus and encouraged them to “Help stop AIDS. Use a condom.”

Sponsors: American Foundation for AIDS Research and the National AIDS Network
Volunteer Agency: Scali, McCabe, Sloves, Inc.
Learn more >>


Domestic Violence (1994 – Present)

This campaign raised awareness of domestic violence by emphasizing that it affects everyone. The PSAs encouraged people to get involved in domestic violence prevention efforts and to intervene if they know someone in an abusive relationship. In the first year of the campaign, more than 34,000 calls were made to the Family Violence Prevention hotline. The campaign continues to raise awareness about domestic violence and to encourage constructive involvement in its prevention and intervention.

Sponsor: Family Violence Prevention Fund
Volunteer Agency: Hill Holiday in New York
Learn more >>


I am an American (2001 – Present)

Following the tragedies of September 11th, the Ad Council and Austin-based ad agency GSD&M sought to celebrate the ideals that keep this country strong by highlighting the nation’s extraordinary diversity. Showing people of all ages, races and religions stating, “I am an American,” the ads helped the country to unite in the wake of the terrorist attacks. On the air just ten days after the tragedies, the ads conclude with the American motto, E Pluribus Unum, or “Out of Many, One.” The response to these PSAs received by the Ad Council from Americans all over the world was unprecedented.

Sponsor: The Advertising Council
Volunteer Agency: GSD&M Advertising
Learn more >>


Social Responsibility

"Our future marketing and advertising leaders are not just looking for a job, they are looking for a meaningful career that will make a positive impact on society."
— Gord McLean, President and CEO at ANA Educational Foundation