Child Abuse Prevention (1976-2003)

In 1976, the Ad Council and Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA) partnered to develop a public service advertising (PSA) campaign to raise awareness of what was then a hidden crisis – child abuse. At the time, less than 10 percent of US adults considered child abuse to be a critical social problem. But in reality, more than one million children in the United States were being abused each year, profoundly impacting individual lives and communities across the country.

The PSA campaign was designed to promote public understanding of the scope and ramifications of child abuse, encouraging the public to write for more information. The first PSAs featured the tagline, “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child,” and generated an incredible response from the public. In the first month of the campaign, more than 40,000 people sent letters to PCAA. In 1978, the campaign was recognized with the International Advertising Association’s Public Service Advertising Award as “the best public service advertising campaign produced by an agency anywhere in the world.”

The campaign began to urge the establishment of child abuse prevention centers in the communities throughout the nation or joining existing programs. In conjunction with this appeal, PCAA began developing a broad network of chapters to help prevent child abuse on the local level. In 1980, there were 12 chapters, but by 1984 that number increased to 46 chapters.

A 1981 survey found that five years after the campaign launch, a whopping 91% of the American public considered child abuse to be a major problem and less than 4% thought that individuals could do nothing to prevent it. Later evolutions of the campaign offered practical solutions to preventing child abuse, such as simple alternative behaviors to discourage lashing out in fits of anger. Those PSAs featured the tagline, “Take time out. Don’t take it out on your child.” Singer Michael Bolton lent his talent to produce a radio PSA.

Through the years, the campaign shaped the way Americans viewed child abuse. In 1996, more than 18,000 calls were made to the hotline and more than 95% of adults surveyed said they believed child abuse was a serious problem. This PSA campaign reflects the power of public service advertising to effect positive change. It began with the unprecedented public exposure of the problem and continued with the public’s willingness to finally take action.

As a result of the success of the PCAA campaign, the Ad Council has added Childhelp USA, a Child Abuse campaign with a focus on intervention, to its docket. This year, more than three million cases of child abuse will be reported in the United States. Sadly, most experts believe the actual number of incidences is three times that number. The new campaign encourages people to “Trust Your Instincts” when it comes to reporting child abuse.

TV Commercials:

Mouths (1986)

Take Time Out (1986)

Ad Council Campaigns That Have Made a Difference

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