Advertising Industry’s Commitment to Social Responsibility

Keith Reinhard
Chairman, DDB Worldwide

Presented at AEF’s Annual Symposium
September 29, 2005

When Ken Kaess, the charismatic young CEO of DDB Worldwide, who is also the Chairman of AEF, recommended me for this assignment, the task seemed innocent enough. As described, my job was to present an overview on the subject of the Advertising Industry’s Commitment to Social Responsibility. I assumed we’d be talking about the Ad Council, and the one billion dollars worth of advertising annually spent for more than fifty socially important causes including the important Red Cross campaign that’s been running in the media since Katrina. I also assumed we’d be touching on what so many advertising agencies are doing in their own communities by way of their own CSR programs. WPP even issues its own Corporate Social Responsibility report.
I thought we might touch on what some individual industry figures are doing outside of their day jobs—contributing their time and talent to make the world a better place.

But when Paula Alex, CEO of the AEF, gave me the real brief to raise the discourse on the subject of social responsibility of the advertising industry and the critically important issue of children’s health and wellness, one of my close advisors suggested I schedule a root canal for this morning, and not go near the emotionally charged issues of children and television.

Whether or not children know when advertising is advertising, whether they pester their parents into buying stuff they don’t need or even want, whether advertising video games and the games themselves make kids violent, or indeed whether advertising and video games are truly beneficial to children—literate spokesmen for both sides of these arguments produce impressive research they believe proves their particular point of view. And then of course there is the hottest issue of the day–whether advertising is the reason childhood obesity in the U.S. has reached epidemic proportions as defined by the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention.

Volumes have been written on the subject of advertising and children. Countless research studies have been conducted and published. Seminars, conferences and hearings have been held, going back in my memory at least to the seventies when, the government threatened to remove all kids advertising from television. As I recall, there was one commissioner who wanted to remove all emotion from all advertising. He thought we should include just the facts, literal product facts about the product and product ingredients. Had such a regulation been passed fragrance ads might now consist of a simple listing of ingredients like this. Not quite “hope in a bottle.”

Today, the FTC is a supporter of self regulation but they are rightly interested in obesity and on July 15 in Washington, co-sponsored a Workshop on Marketing, Self Regulation and Child Obesity with the Department of Health and Human Services. One of our panelists, Brock Leach, was a key figure in those proceedings, which concluded that the obesity problem is complex, that self-regulation should be strengthened and broadened but that media has not been the major culprit.

We’ll return to the subject of overweight kids and kid advertising in a few minutes but first, let’s use the symposium title to set the backdrop.

Is the Advertising Industry really committed to social responsibility? Obviously, I would say yes and you’d expect me to. And you might also expect me to say that advertising’s first social responsibility in our cherished free market society is to sell stuff and to sell it efficiently. Advertising is the sparkplug of the free market system which depends on stuff being sold. The myriad benefits that system brings to society are well known, and despite the current negativity toward our country, the way of life made possible by our economy is still the envy of most people in the world.

An ad for Wheelabrator Frye I tore from the Cleveland Plain Dealer years ago explained it very well. I can’t find the ad but I remember the copy. Under the headline “The Buck Starts Here” the copy went on to say “No wages are paid. No taxes are paid. A household can’t function. Neither can a government. A person can’t buy a can of soup; a fire engine can’t move. The clock stops. So does America. So do you.”

I’m sure all of us in this audience agree that the honest pursuit of sales is not only a good thing, but vital to our cherished way of life. So advertising, because it’s good at selling things, is a force for good. It sparks the free market system by making choices known, and by making choices affordable through the economies of scale. It also makes choices better by stimulating competition which in turn leads to product improvements. Advertising also brings every citizen endless varieties of free information and enjoyment through paid sponsorship of media content and there’s a special point here with respect to children’s programming and children’s advertising. If there were no children’s advertising there’d be no children’s programming and kids, instead of watching Angelina Ballerina would be watching Jerry Springer. You think obesity’s a problem. Think of a generation growing up watching segments about guys sleeping with their girlfriend’s sisters. Or mothers. Or the guy who is sleeping with Siamese triplets! It’s a fact that 94% of net revenues coming from advertising directed at children is reinvested into children’s programming.

Those are some of the ways advertising meets its primary social responsibility.

In addition, when we do it right, advertising itself can lift the human spirit. We can do this with humor with music with art, or with catchy slogans people like to repeat—“Where’s the Beef?” or ‘Whassup?’

Or by finding unique ways of celebrating the worth of every individual. Advertising has been called the art of the masses—lifting spirits while lifting sales and share has been an advertising contribution to society since Jules Cheret first adorned the hoardings of Paris at the turn of the 19th century. As one writer of the day put it, “Cheret has changed the decor of the street with a peal of laughter…a stroke of beauty.”

But even then, advertising had its critics. According to one source “Cheret’s posters were seen by some as seductions destined to erode the discipline that kept the masses in their place.”

Advertising is still a target and always will be. Because advertising is so omnipresent we are blamed for a host of social evils. But those who blame us must remember that while we are the sparkplug of a very complex system, we are not the system itself. Without the free market system we have no purpose. And without advertising, the free market system has no vitality. This is not well understood by critics who treat advertising as if it had a life of its own.

(I often wonder if some people in Washington are so critical of us because the only form of advertising they know is political advertising. And in political advertising, you don’t have to tell the truth.)

Which leads to some other “social responsibilities” for advertising.

Advertising has a “social responsibility” to sell truthfully. And here, we sometimes need to remind our critics that the test of truth is not what is literally said in an advertisement, but what is understood. If you don’t know what is understood by the consumer, do some more research. Once you know what is understood, make sure the product delivers what’s understood. If it doesn’t, start over.

To those critics back in the seventies who were equating truth in advertising with a “spell out” of literal facts, I explained in a hearing that if our intent was to mislead children, we could do so without departing from the literal truth.

As an example, I said that if my then young daughter approached me with the question, “Dad, who was Hitler?” I could answer that Hitler was a man very popular in Germany in the thirties and early forties. He loved children and dogs and loved to paint. Literal truth is not the test of honest advertising.

I would also argue that advertising has a “social responsibility” to sell efficiently. Bill Bernbach said, “properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.” When that happens, clients become more profitable and when clients become more profitable, they can give more back to society. Last year American corporations contributed more than $12 billion dollars to U.S. charities, causes and philanthropies. I know at least one of our panelists will have more to say about that.

And of course, advertising has a “social responsibility” to be especially sensitive to children. Which is perhaps the most important reason that advertising has a responsibility to to regulate itself. In our second panel this morning we’ll be hearing from Jim Guthrie, President & CEO of the National Advertising Review Council who may update us on the latest strengthening of our self regulatory standards—especially with respect to children. Certainly, these standards need constant updating as the media landscape changes dramatically from a focus on television to the Internet for example.

A study published in Advertising Age last February shows the Internet topping TV as a pastime for both tweens—kids 8-12, and teens 13-18. According to the Kaiser Foundation, average time spent on Online Activities by U.S. children between 8-18 increased from 27 minutes a day in 1999 to more than an hour per day in 2004. Of course, some people spend a lot more time than that.

Reuters last month reported the story of a young Korean man who played computer games for almost 50 hours non-stop in a marathon session in an Internet cafe. When he failed to return home, his mother sent friends to find the young man who had recently quit his job in order to play more computer games. When his friends found him, he promised to finish the game and then go home, but he collapsed and died of exhaustion instead. Reuters ended the report with the matter of fact comment that “South Korea has a large and highly developed game industry.”

American kids may not be that addicted. But todays thirteen year old is more likely to be spending time in “My” or with “Music” than in front of the television set.

But whatever the media, self-regulation has proved to be the best regulation and it will continue to be.

FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras explained why as she opened the FTC sponsored workshop on July 15.

“I understand that self-regulation has its share of skeptics”, she said. “But the FTC’s experience has been that effective self-regulation can have tremendous benefits.” Chairman Majoras went on to say, “Under the right circumstances, industry generated action can address problems more quickly, creatively, and flexibly than government regulation. And they do not raise the significant constitutional hurdles that government action carries when we seek to restrict otherwise truthful commercial speech.”

The key self-regulatory body for children’s advertising is the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, or CARU, part of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. It was established in 1974 by the National Advertising Review Council to promote responsible children’s advertising and to respond to public concerns.

It’s worth reviewing the 7 CARU principles which embody the philosophy upon which CARU’s mandate is based. These principles form the platform for a comprehensive set of guidelines covering everything from promotions to celebrity presenters to branded content.

1. Advertising should always take into account the level of knowledge, sophistication and maturity of the audience to which their message is primarily directed.

Younger children have a limited capacity for evaluating the information they receive.

They also may lack the ability to understand the nature of the personal information they disclose on the Internet.

Advertisers, therefore, have a special responsibility to protect children from their own susceptibilities

2. Realizing that children are imaginative and that make-believe play constitutes an important part of the growing up process, advertisers should exercise care not to exploit unfairly the imaginative quality of children.

Unreasonable expectations of product quality or performance should not be stimulated either directly or indirectly by advertising.

3. Products and content which are inappropriate for children should not be advertised or promoted directly to children.

4. Recognizing that advertising may play an important part in educating the child, advertisers should communicate information in a truthful and accurate manner and in language understandable to young children with full recognition that the child may learn practices from advertising which can affect his or her health and well-being.

5. Advertisers are urged to capitalize on the potential to influence behavior by developing advertising that, whenever possible, addresses itself to positive and beneficial social behavior such as friendship, kindness, honesty, justice, generosity and respect for others.

6. Care should be taken to incorporate minority groups in advertisements in order to present positive and pro-social roles and role models wherever possible.

Social stereotyping and appeals to prejudice should be avoided.

7. Although many influences affect a child’s personal and social development, it remains the prime responsibility of parents to provide guidance for children.

Advertisers should contribute to this parent-child relationship in a constructive manner.

In addition to these guidelines, the marketers of products and services all have codes of their own, I’m sure we’ll hear more from our panelists. We’ll also hear about how they and their companies view their own responsibilities to society in general and to children in particular.

With respect to nutrition, food marketers are responding to consumers’ need for information.

McDonald’s Bag a Meal on-line is one good example. Simply drag the menu item onto the tray and learn the nutritional content. Subway puts the nutritional content on napkins and cups. Food marketers are also responding with healthier food choices. McDonald’s salads, Pepsico’s Smart Spot program, and most recently, Mars announced the formation of a new unit—“Mars Nutrition for Health & Well-Being” to develop new foods, snacks, beverages and lifestyle support to serve the nutritional and well-being needs of consumers. These are but three of many examples of what food marketers are doing to meet the changing needs and wants of consumers.

In addition, individual advertisers are mounting their own initiatives to get America back in shape. Coke’s “Live It” program is one example. And the Beverage Industry has announced it will be eliminating sugared drinks from vending machines in grade schools.

I know everyone wants to talk about obesity. So, let’s look at some pertinent facts. There is no question that obesity is up in the U.S., especially among young people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1980 the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has more than doubled, and the rate for adolescents has tripled. Today about 10% of 2-5 year olds and 15% of 6-19 year olds are overweight.

Ironically, according to Nielsen—and this surprised some people—food ads directed at kids are down during the period 1977 to 2004. Food ads were down 34% on kid’s shows during that period and by 50% on family shows.

Cereal ads were down by almost two thirds and candy ads by more than 75%. At much lower levels, restaurants & fast food, and sweetened drinks were up. But overall, children are seeing far fewer food ads today than they were in 1977, at least two decades before we had an obesity problem. So it may not be the food ads after all. The hours spent in front of the television may have more to do with it.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a year the average child spends 900 hours in school and nearly 1,023 hours in front of a TV. We also know that 30% of U.S. kids have TV sets in their rooms and that 70% of childcare centers use television during a typical day. In addition to the fact that kids are not expending calories when they’re watching television, it is also true that snacking increases while watching TV and metabolism decreases to a level below that of sleep.

A news item from The New York Times recently gave me an idea for one way to address the obesity problem. The story was about a bicycle that had been stolen from a restaurant in Brooklyn. The bike, connected to a drink mixer, had been used by customers who pedaled away to power the drink mixer to mix their daiquiris.

How about Pedal TV? For those overweight kids who aren’t ready to get into “Exergaming”, the new trend that combines physical activity with digital entertainment. One of the most popular is DDR, Dance Dance Revolution. To play the game, you dance in time to the steps displayed onscreen using a special steel floor pad connected to a PlayStation 2 or Xbox. Go to for testimonials from young people like Tanya who lost 95 pounds over the four years she’s been playing the game.

What can the advertising industry do?

We can find creative ways to address the obesity problem just as we’ve successfully addressed other social ills.

A few examples…

A new study released last month shows a dramatic shift in behavior by parents to place children in the back seat of vehicles. This, coupled with increased use of child safety seats and safety belts, resulted in an 18 percent reduction in overall fatalities among children 0-12. Front seat fatalities declined by 46 percent. The National Safety Council credits the results to advertising like this as part of a massive education program to make parents aware of the dangers of front seat deaths caused by airbags. The campaign was implemented in 1996 and funded by a private coalition of auto and insurance companies and occupant restraint manufacturers in partnership with the National Highway Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and scores of other safety organizations.

Studies have shown that alcohol consumption decreases as the level of counter-advertising rises. Today, drunk driving has become virtually unacceptable socially after various agencies including the Ad Council launched aggressive media campaigns warning against the danger of drunk driving. As Francine Katz, VP of consumer affairs at Anheuser-Busch said recently, “After 20 years of consistent anti-drunk driving messages in the home, at school, at the bar and in the media, drunk driving is completely taboo in the generation of drinkers currently in their 20s and 30s.” Currently, Anheuser-Busch is running a “Responsible Drinking” campaign that applauds the good practices of those who exercise restraint when drinking and who arrange designated drivers when they go out.

California’s 15 year anti-smoking campaign has dramatically reduced the burden of disease in the state. California’s lung and bronchus cancer rates, which were higher than the national average in 1988, have fallen three times faster than rates in the rest of the country. Since 1988, the number of California adults who smoke has fallen from 23% to 16%, one of the country’s lowest rates, and high school smoking rates in California have fallen from 22% in 2000 to 13%, while middle-school smoking rates fell from 7% to 4%.

The “Responsible Drinking” campaign and the California anti-smoking campaign both demonstrate the need to sustain and support an effort over long periods of time. In the case of Anheuser Busch, more than half a billion dollars were spent over the past two decades. The California campaign is now in its 16th year.

The anti-smoking campaigns seems to have registered with kids 5-12. A chart from a Strottman/Subway study released last year shows that nearly all kids 5-12 now think smoking is dangerous.

But not exercising enough is seen as only half as dangerous as not brushing teeth! What action will it take to move these two bars to the 97% level achieved by the dangers of smoking.

I want to get back to the larger question of social responsibility, but before we do, a few more thoughts on the hot issue of childhood obesity. As many have observed, the subject is complex.

Here I would agree with Manly Molpus, President/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Said Manly, “Effective solutions to obesity must take a comprehensive approach, incorporating sound nutrition, increased physical activity, consumer and parent education, and community support. “Above all,” he added, “the focus should be on giving parents the information they need to ensure their children eat a nutritionally-balanced diet and get the right amount of physical activity.

The challenge then, it would seem, would be to get kids and parents to care. If that sounds like a brief for the advertising industry, so be it.

The Ad Council last year, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, launched a public service campaign that urges Americans to take small steps to lose pounds and inches. On the screen you see step 19 of a 120 small steps, all of which can be found on-line at The pro-bono work is by McCann New York and includes humorous ads showing the positive results that taking enough small steps might produce. In this ad, the outer perimeter line says “started going for short walks during lunch hour”, next dotted line to the right says “stops ordering out and starts cooking healthy meals” and the third line says “just bought bikini that challenges some obscenity laws.” A creative and commendable effort but fully dependent on contributed media.

I wonder, as an industry, are there even bigger steps we could take?

Reduction in drinking and driving resulted from a combination of efforts from the Ad Council, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the private sector, including the more than half a billion dollars of advertising from Anheuser-Busch.

While we’re contemplating what advertising might do, let me mention an important role for government in addressing this issue and it’s not about tinkering with advertising. It’s about overhauling a school system that, in another context, Bill Gates has declared “obsolete”. He’s concerned about the fact that the U.S. ranks 24th out of 29 nations in both math literacy and problem solving abilities. I’d hate to guess where we might rank on Physical Education.

Only one state in the union—Illinois—requires Physical Education daily for all children, kindergarten through high school.

Over the past 30 years the average time allotted for Physical Education in our schools has gone from an hour a day to 30 minutes twice a week.

High School Physical Education daily attendance has dropped from 42% to 28% during the period 1991 to 2003.

One of our panelists, Jackie Woodward, sent me a chart that says it all. Physical exercise is down 13% over the past 20 years, while weight is up 10%.

Bill Clinton, who has a special interest in the obesity crisis, emphasizes the need for government to be involved.

View Clinton clip # 1

That was President Clinton being interviewed by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It was interesting to me that not once, in the thirty minute interview, did the former president mention advertising as a contributor to the problem.

When asked whether schools should issue “obesity” report cards, he cautioned against making overweight kids feel ashamed or defensive but supported an idea from Arkansas.

View Clinton clip # 2

He finished by emphasizing the role of parents:

View Clinton clip # 3

Enough, for the moment, about obesity.

The title of this symposium is about social responsibility of the advertising industry. There can be no question about our commitment.

In addition to the vital contribution we make to society just by doing our job of sparking and stimulating the economy, advertisers, agencies and industry associations give freely of their time, talent and money to address a host of social concerns.

We’ve already mentioned the Ad Council which, for more than 60 years has worked with volunteer advertising agencies to create effective public service campaigns featuring some of our industry’s most memorable slogans including “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste” and “Friends don’t let Friends Drive Drunk” and some of the best known characters including Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog.

There is the Association of National Advertisers, whose 362 member companies sponsor a number of socially important programs including The Family Friendly Program Forum whose mission is to promote the development of “family friendly” television programming genres between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00 pm when families and children are most likely to watch television together.

The AAAA takes social responsibility very seriously. A prime example is its MAIP program, now in its 32nd year. MAIP stands for Multicultural Advertising Internship Program. It encourages African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and Native-American college students to strongly consider advertising as a career. Each summer, minority students are selected from colleges and universities nationwide for a 10 week paid internship in member agencies. In addition, the 4A’s foundation is an independent charitable group established in 1997 to grant scholarships to multicultural students interested in advertising creativity.

The AAF is doing impressive work in diversity with its Mosaic Center on Multiculturalism. Just yesterday, I participated in their program here at Advertising Week. They have well established principles and practices including guidelines to help companies build successful multicultural marketing and advertising teams. The Mosaic Awards are given annually to companies who best demonstrate the spirit of these awards.

And then of course, there’s the Advertising Educational Foundation, our hosts today. Created in 1983 as a non-profit operating foundation, it is supported by ad agencies, media companies and advertisers. Its primary mission is to be the industry’s provider and distributor of educational content to enrich the understanding of advertising as an essential component of our economic and social system. One of its stated objectives is to “expand and elevate the advertising discourse” which we hope to do today.

Bill Bernbach said “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”

As a member of the advertising industry, I’m proud of its commitment to social responsibility. And proud of its commitment to find new and better ways to lift society to a higher level.

Thank you.



Keith Reinhard, AEF

Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved.

2005 Symposium

"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