I Am An American
The idea for the “I am an American” public service advertisement was conceived on a road trip following the tragedies of September 11th. Air transportation was grounded after the terrorist attacks, and as a result, executives from Austin, Texas ad agency GSD&M, found themselves stranded in Annapolis, Maryland, following a client meeting. Rather than waiting to catch a flight home, they decided to drive back to Texas. As they reflected on the tragic events of the day, they thought about what it is that makes America so unique.
Somewhere around Raleigh, GSD&M’s creative director proposed the idea of creating a PSA that would celebrate the country’s extraordinary diversity. Fearing a possible backlash against Arab Americans and other ethnic groups after the attacks, GSD&M decided to communicate a message that would remind Americans that this was the time to unite as a country.
By the next morning, broadcast producers at the agency were soliciting the help of directors, commercial producers and editors across the country. Everyone was eager to volunteer and filming began immediately in cities nationwide. The final version of the PSA features people of many ages, races and religions proudly stating “I Am an American.” The spot ends with the words, E Pluribus Unum, which means out of many, one. That phrase communicates that, “out of many faces, religions, geographical backgrounds, and ethnicities, we are one nation.”
GSD&M President Roy Spence contacted the Ad Council about the concept as soon as the group made it back to Austin. The Ad Council embraced the idea and for the first time in its history became the sole signatory of a PSA. “I am an American” was distributed to media broadcast outlets nationwide. The spot was on the air within 10 days of the attacks.
The response to the campaign has been unprecedented. In just the first three months, the media donated more than $14 million in time and space to air the spot. As a result of that media support, emails and phone calls poured in from hundreds of Americans around the world who were moved by the spot, and thanked the Ad Council for bringing such an important message to the country at this time.
One person wrote, “When the twin towers came crashing down, I didn’t cry. Like everyone else, I was in shock. When I saw your PSA ‘I Am an American,’ I did cry. Thank you for putting forth the best and most appropriate PSA ever.”
Many of the emails were so heartening that they were compiled in a booklet and sent out to the volunteers who helped with the project. The PSA continues to air on broadcast and cable stations nationwide, and its important message still resonates with people around the world.
I am an American (2001)
"Great mix of technical info and real life experience to justify it. Easily the best guest lecture I’ve had in college. So relevant and informative."— Student at Villanova University after AEF sent speaker from BBDO