The advertisement features a photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. on the left and one of Charles Manson on the right.
"The man on the left is 75 times more likely to be stopped by the police while driving than the man on the right," says the headline in bold type. The ad goes on to explain that around the country police regularly stop drivers based on their skin color rather than on the way they are driving.
The paid ad, which begins running on Sunday in The New York Times Magazine and the next day in The New Yorker, is a message from the American Civil Liberties Union. Founded in 1920 and probably best remembered -- at least by baby boomers -- for its role during the anti-Vietnam war protests of the 60's and 70's, the A.C.L.U. is taking a consumer marketing approach to build new awareness and support for its causes.
And consumer-style advertising and Web-based marketing, including a Web store, is all part of it.
"You can't reach a significant number of people by only speaking at bar associations and Elks lodges and universities," said Ira Glasser, the A.C.L.U.'s executive director in New York. "Advertising and Web-based communication has to be part of it."
"We have taken to advertising for the same reason people who market products have taken to advertising in a dramatic and splashy and visible way," he added. "We want to get the message into people's consciousness without forcing them to have to read a law review article."
The organization has advertised in the past, but its approach has either been event-driven -- the mass arrests of antiwar protesters -- or, in recent years, all text ads about issues that ran on op-ed pages in newspapers.
But the group's polling found that the A.C.L.U. was still largely misunderstood, Mr. Glasser said. The group is often remembered for its most sensational and titillating cases -- defense of the free speech rights of the Ku Klux Klan, for example -- and not for the other 5,000 to 6,000 cases handled each year, he said.
"Generally, people don't know what the A.C.L.U. does, and they have a rather distorted image of what the organization stands for," Mr. Glasser said. "This is also an attempt to educate people about the issues and inform the public of our core values."
The A.C.L.U. late last year hired DeVito/Verdi in New York -- its first consumer ad agency, and one that is known for its provocative work for clients like ecampus.com and causes like the Pro-Choice Public Education Project. The agency also creates advertising for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for the Senate.
Mr. Glasser said he also hopes the advertising will draw people to its Web site, which offers information on a host of issues. The site's store sells books and items like A.C.L.U. T-shirts, caps and mugs.
Racial profiling is just one issue that the A.C.L.U. is taking on in advertising. The group will run ads that support abortion rights and gay rights.
And it will take aim at the practice of trying juveniles offenders as adults with a campaign that uses the headline: "They finally found an answer to overcrowded prisons. Smaller prisoners."
Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/ Verdi, said all the issues "resonated with people" in its polling as the topics of the day.
Actually, the ads are the second phase of the campaign, which was started in December with a print ad on the death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed Bronx man who was killed by New York City police in a fusillade of 41 bullets. The ad was condemned by New York City's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association as prejudicial pretrial publicity and was later cited by a judge as among the reasons for a change in venue from the city to upstate New York. The A.C.L.U. maintains that the ad did not take a legal position, and only highlighted "the latest unjustified killing of a person of color."
Racial profiling is a volatile issue around the country, but it is unclear whether police groups will respond to this latest ad. The National Association of Police Organizations, a coalition of police unions and associations in Washington, was unavailable for comment.
The Diallo ad was risky and was criticized. But Victor Kamber, president of the Kamber Group in Washington, which creates advocacy advertising for labor unions and other causes, said that the A.C.L.U.'s campaign needs to be controversial to provoke its "liberal, progressive and somewhat shrinking" audience to act.
"I don't think they are advertising to get general public recognition," said Mr. Kamber. "If they wanted that, they'd run a neutral ad about how they support good causes. Their goal is to get people angry and excited, and I think they achieved it."
But Mr. Verdi said the agency is not setting out to be controversial, though it does want to be noticed. The A.C.L.U. has a $1 million ad budget -- big for the organization but minuscule by Madison Avenue standards, said Mr. Glasser.
"A public service ad has to move you emotionally and intellectually," Mr. Verdi said. "If you don't get a chill, it's a total waste of money."
Patricia Winters Lauro, The New York Times. May 30, 2000
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