August 3, 2010
The (R)Ad Council and ProgressivesBy John Peeples
Public Service Announcements (PSAs) have been around for a long time as a product of governmental mandate -- a price traditional media pay for the use of broadcast bandwidth. PSAs are messages for the common good, at least in theory.
PSAs are so pervasive that we scarcely notice them; they are like the persistent, oft-repeated criticisms and directives of our spouses that we tune out at regular intervals.
But just as with our spouses' admonishments, we can not ignore PSAs completely. They seep into our subconscious, and we absorb the droning messages.
Didn't someone named Huxley or Orwell write a book about this?
Most PSAs are an amalgam of mildly disturbing images and sonorous, yet urgent voices that conclude with a reassuring statement that the preceding message was "presented by ABC Agency, XYZ Agency, and the Ad Council."
The innocuous messages slink past us in most media, but their incongruity jars us awake when broadcast during conservative talk radio programs.
A year ago, I started complaining to my wife about what a waste of money it was for the Department of Health and Human Services to be lecturing (http://www.flu.gov/) the well-educated audience of our local talk radio market about the dangers of the H1N1 flu pandemic that threatened us all. ("Should a flu pandemic occur, wash your hands often, and stay home from work or school if you are sick.")
Now that the flu season is five months past, and with millions and millions of unused doses of the flu vaccine from last season destroyed, the message plays on (compliments of HHS and the Ad Council).
A sampling of other current Ad Council campaigns circulating on talk radio -- and everywhere else -- includes:
--The evils of lead paint (sponsored by EPA, HUD, Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, and the Ad Council);
--The importance of mentoring under-privileged kids (sponsored by the U.S. Army and the Ad council);
--Teaching computer skills to the homeless (sponsored by the United Way and the Ad Council):
--Obama promising to protect the rights of citizens with disabilities under the ADA (sponsored by American Association of People with Disabilities and the Ad Council);
--The irresponsibility of using of non-CFL bulbs for lighting (sponsored by the Dept. of Energy and the Ad Council);
--The importance of being a good father (sponsored by HHS's Office of Family Assistance, National Responsible Father Clearinghouse, and the Ad Council);
--Staving off foreclosure with government assistance (sponsored by Neighborworks America [created by Congress] and the Ad Council);
--Staving off foreclosure with government assistance, Part II (sponsored by the Dept. of the Treasury, HUD, and the Ad Council);
--Obama calling upon Americans to volunteer to organize their communities (sponsored by the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Ad Council); and
--Learning not to insult lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students (sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network and the Ad Council).
All told, there are 55 active campaign subjects on the Ad Council "docket."
Who the heck is this ubiquitous Ad Council?
According to its website, the Ad Council is a private non-profit corporation founded in 1941 to focus on the war effort. It promoted the sale of war bonds and what would now be called war propaganda campaigns such as "loose lips sink ships."
The Ad Council works in conjunction with the most prestigious ad agencies (who donate their time) to create such famous campaigns as Smokey the Bear's message that began in 1944 ("Only you can prevent forest fires."). In other words, the Ad Council picks a subject and hammers away at it for as long as it takes to satisfy the issue, sometimes (as with Smokey) for decades.
Didn't someone named Stalin or Mao cover this theme? Or was that my wife?
How does the Ad Council decide which topics deserve its attention? Part of the answer to that question certainly resides in the list of "sponsors" detailed above. Plainly, federal agencies (and their taxpayer dollars) wield a lot of influence. But who governs the Ad Council?
The Ad Council has, of course, a Board of Directors:
But it would appear that the people who really matter are members of the Advisory Committee, who play
Those are two strikingly different sources of leadership, aren't they?
So who is represented on the 33-member Advisory Committee? Here is a sampling:
--Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Systems Integration
Georgetown Public Policy Institute
--Youth Service America
--Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Education Fund (LCCREF)
--Medical Director, Corporate
Contributions and Community
Relations & Director of Latin American Contributions
Johnson & Johnson
--National Council of La Raza
--Public Education Network
--Senior Vice-president Corporate Responsibility
Time Warner, Inc.
--Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology
Harvard School of Public Health
Department of Society, Human Development and Health
--Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility and Public Affairs
--Alliance for Excellent Education.
--Be the Change, Inc.
--MEE Productions, Inc
--National Human Services Assembly
Please Google any of the above to gain a sense of their purpose and mission. Given the constitution of its Advisory Committee, it should come as no surprise that the messages disseminated by the Ad Council skew toward the progressive end of the political/social scale. These are the people nagging at us about what they deem to be "national priorities."
The Ad Council was originally committed to the preservation and protection of America. Today, it appears to help us "progress" and "change for the better." Using our tax dollars. Sound familiar?