Crime Prevention (1979-Present)

In 1979, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Ad Council introduced Americans to a character, who would quickly become a powerful symbol of the fight against crime — McGruff the Crime Dog. At the time, research indicated that feelings of apathy, fear, and the inevitability of crime prevented the public from addressing rising crime rates. McGruff and his now familiar slogan, “Take a bite out of crime,” helped to change that.

The popular public service advertisements (PSAs) were designed to raise awareness among Americans that every citizen has the ability to prevent or at least to reduce crime. Additionally, the spots were developed to empower citizens with an individual sense of responsibility for preventing crime. In just the first months of the campaign, more than 300,000 copies of the booklet, “Got a minute? You could stop a crime,” were requested, and by 1981, more than one million copies were distributed as a direct result of the advertising, which encouraged the public to perform simple steps such as locking doors and joining with neighbors to create neighborhood watch groups.

In 1982, burglary rates in major U.S. cities, including Detroit, Seattle and Los Angeles dropped by as much as 50% in the areas with active crime prevention programs. Timely telephone calls from members of these crime prevention groups were credited by law enforcement authorities with reducing residential burglaries on suburban blocks and in urban apartment buildings. By 1986, a reported 19 million citizens participated in crime prevention activities with block watch groups having been established in 100,000 neighborhoods.

A study conducted for the National Institute of Justice in 1983, indicated that more than half of all adults in the United States had seen or heard at least one of the campaign’s PSAs. Approximately half of those who saw the advertising reported that they felt more responsible for preventing crime than they had prior to seeing the PSAs. In addition, one-fourth of those who saw the messages took some sort of preventative action as a direct result of the campaign.

As the PSAs spurred the public to take action, the reduction in property crimes continued. A 1984 Justice Department’s Crime Survey noted that household burglaries and theft decreased dramatically, hitting their lowest level in the 12-year history of the survey. Figures released by the FBI in that same year showed a 7% drop in serious crimes, the second significant decline in two years and the largest decline since 1960. Both the Attorney General of the United States and the Director of the FBI attributed the decline in part to “greater citizen involvement” – the major theme of the campaign. And furthermore, significant changes in behavior were reported in six of the seven crime prevention activities that were specifically recommended by the advertising.

In 1985, the Crime Prevention campaign shifted its focus to the tragedy of the 20,000 kids who disappear in the country yearly. The new PSAs urged parents to educate children about the ways they can protect themselves against crime and kidnapping. A 1987 market research study showed that nine out of 10 teens and adults taking crime prevention measures trusted McGruff, and an astonishing 97% of children said they tried to do what McGruff told them to do. Having achieved such astounding success, NCPC altered its focus yet again. The message of the new PSAs was drug abuse prevention and the ads featured the theme “Users are Losers” and once again McGruff.

McGruff’s nephew Scruff first appeared in 1992 in a separate campaign targeted toward children, between the ages of five and nine. Calls to the campaigns toll-free number exceeded 50,000 calls in just 10 months. A children’s activity book featuring Scruff was made available to callers beginning in August of 1993 and by 1995, more than 375,000 copies of the book were mailed. By 1998, the number of activity books distributed had reached one million.

In 2001, the campaign began to concentrate on teens. Research indicated that nine out of 10 teens would volunteer to take part in programs to help prevent crime and drug abuse if only they knew how to get involved. In response, the new PSAs encouraged teens to become active partners in their communities’ safety and encouraged adults to invest time and resources in delinquency prevention and intervention strategies.

Today, more than 93% of children recognize McGruff, the trench coat wearing hound dog, as the icon that provides safety tips for adults and kids. Through the years, the Ad Council’s 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.

TV Commercials:

Jenny (1985)

Users Are Losers (1987)

Boyband (Teens)

Cloudwatching (Adults)

Quiet Time (Kids)

Ad Council Campaigns That Have Made a Difference

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