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Power of PSAs to Create Social Change
By Cynthia Round, EVP, Brand Leadership, United Way of America

How many of you are familiar with the Ad Council? It is really so much more than a single organization. The Ad Council is a collaboration of the advertising, media and corporate communities all coming together to make a difference in this country.

Founded more than 60 years ago by a committed group of advertising executives who wanted to leverage the power of the industry for the greater good.

To this day, advertisers donate their marketing expertise, ad agencies donate the creative and media companies donate the time and space. In fact, in 2004 the media community donated more than $1.7 billion to Ad Council campaigns.

Some of you are familiar with Ad Council icons like Smokey Bear, Rosie the Riveter, McGruff the Crime Dog, and the Crying Indian. And certainly we all know that A Mind is A Terrible Thing to Waste and that Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.

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But Ad Council campaigns are more than memorized - they mobilize. What it comes down to is that Ad Council campaigns can change social norms.

Case in point -- the Ad Council's iconic Safety Belt campaign featuring the much loved crash test dummies - Vince & Larry.

Many adults can still remember childhood vacations where as kids we climbed back and forth over seats in the family station wagon. Safety belts just weren't a part of the picture. But in 1967 the federal government mandated safety belts as standard equipment in all new cars. Yet, even though most Americans agreed that safety belts were a good idea, they weren't using them.

The U.S. Department of Transportation approached the Ad Council for help in 1985 and this iconic campaign was born. Since launching the campaign, safety belt usage across the country has risen from 21% to 79%. In real terms, the campaign is credited with saving an estimated 14,000 lives each year. (Reference spots "Double Date" and "Ice Cream").

I should mention that while the Ad Council doesn't develop advertising to specifically influence the passage of legislation, sometimes these campaigns play a role in creating an environment for legislative action. In this case, changes in Americans' attitudes about seat belts paved the way -- and safety belt usage is now the law in 49 states.

The Drunk Driving campaign serves as another example of how Ad Council PSAs can change the social norm.

In the early 1980's more than 26,000 people were killed each year in alcohol-related crashes. In fact, government data from 1982 showed that 60% of all traffic fatalities were caused by intoxicated drivers. 60 percent!

Working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Ad Council developed a breakthrough campaign that targeted the one person whose judgment was not impaired - the person in the position to take the keys.

As a result, what was once "One more for the road," has given way to 'Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk."

Drinking and driving has become more than just a social faux pas, it is now socially unacceptable.

The term designated driver is now a part of the American vocabulary, but even more importantly 62% of all Americans have tried to stop someone from driving drunk. (Reference spots "Crashing Glasses" and "Wiggins").

It's never easy to look at that work. No matter how many times I see it, I am always moved. And that's really what our work is trying to do. To move people. To motivate people to change their attitudes and their behaviors.

Another example: Within days of the Tsunami tragedy, the Ad Council produced and distributed PSAs to provide relief for the Tsunami victims. The spots feature Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton asking all Americans to donate to organizations conducting relief operations.

In only the first week, the campaign received more than 4,000 TV placements AND in only two months more than 2.3 million visitors came to the website. Estimates currently place the level of America's private giving at over $1 billion illustrating once again the incredible generosity of the American people. (Reference spot "Tsunami").

Ad Council is also helping to make a difference in the lives of so many children by pairing them with a Big Brother or Big Sister. In just the first six months of this campaign it received

  • 30,000 phone calls and
  • in only nine months there was a 75% increase in applications to become a mentor

(Reference spot "Pencil")

An issue that we've all be hearing about is the alarming rate of obesity in this country. Just last year, Ad Council partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to launch a campaign combating obesity. (Reference spot "Love Handles").

Since the campaign launch, the website is receiving over 80,000 unique visitors a month and already more than 105 million Americans have been exposed to this campaign.

All of these examples are from some of the more recent campaigns. But Ad Council has many efforts that year after year produce incredible results. In fact, they have been partnering with the United Negro College Fund for over 30 years. While we all know that "A Mind is A Terrible Thing to Waste," you may not know that this campaign has helped 350,000 children to graduate from college - 350,000. (Reference spot "Schedule").

Ten years ago, the Ad Council adopted a comprehensive initiative to make a difference for those Americans in greatest need - our children.

Today, 70% of all Ad Council campaigns today benefit children. In fact, in just ten years, the media has donated more than $6 billion dollars in support of these messages.

In real life terms, this effort has resulted in:

  • more children in after-school programs
  • more adult mentors for at-risk youth
  • fewer teens dropping out of high school and
  • more parents armed with information and support.

We know that we need to create messages that surround the health and well-being of our children. So, as Ad Council looked at the body of their work, it became very clear that they needed an early learning campaign. So they reached out to the United Way's Success by 6 program to be the national partner in this effort.

Like all Ad Council campaigns, the new Born Learning campaign is about raising awareness of the issue, which, as you might imagine, is just the first step in what can eventually lead to changing the social norm.

The objective of our campaign is to engage parents and inspire them to provide their children with the foundation for a successful future.

Our target audience is English- and Spanish-speaking parents and grandparents of children from birth through age 5.

We must communicate to these parents that from birth, their children are not only eager, but also ready to learn. As parents they must understand that they have the power to turn everyday moments into fun learning opportunities.

Our research shows that parents are overwhelmed as it is. And not just in families where both parents are working outside of the home. Stay-at-home parents are equally overwhelmed. What we didn't want to do was create a message that made them feel like they had one more thing to worry about. That's why this advertising is so smart. It demonstrates that the little "everyday moments" -- whether that's when you're walking down the street together, pouring a bowl of cereal or doing yet another load of laundry -- can be teaching moments.

This campaign aims to inform parents that simply by starting early, they can give their children the tools they need to be school-ready…The PSAs direct parents to a comprehensive website, bornlearning.org. The website content was developed by our partner Civitas. It provides lots of useful information based on the latest research along with dozens of downloadable tips, fact sheets and other user-friendly materials. It will also link visitors with local United Ways for services in their community.

The PSAs were created pro bono by McCann Erickson. They are the same agency that created our United Way branding campaign, "What Matters," as well as so many wonderful commercial advertising campaigns including MasterCard's "Priceless." I think you'll agree that the team at McCann has done an equally remarkable job for this campaign - which, by the way, will be available in English and Spanish for TV, radio, print, outdoor and the internet. (Reference spots "Laundromat", "Piggies" and "Signs").

I am fortunate to do social marketing full time at United Way. But the advertising industry, which donates expertise, creative and media, feels both the opportunity and the responsibility to use the power of media for good. Tonight I have shown you but a few examples of this work.



Cynthia Round

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