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Promoting the United States

Ad Council spots also comfort the home front, battle backlash against Arab-Americans 10/28/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern

The Ad Council and the State Department are working together to create a media campaign to promote American goodwill at home and abroad and to help fight the war against terrorism. That campaign could extend as far as buying ad time on the Arab news network, Al Jazeera.

Charlotte Beers, recently confirmed as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and a former top ad executive, told Congress she will do whatever it takes to get the U.S. message out.

What that message will be is not entirely clear, but the State Department plans to enlist the help of the Ad Council to craft it. Next week, the Ad Council and its newly formed Crisis Response Team plan to announce its strategy. The campaign could include everything from TV and radio spots, advertising on international networks—such as Al Jazeera—to creating Web sites.

Beers, former chairwoman of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson and CEO of WPP's Ogilvy & Mather, is the first top ad executive to be placed in such a role in government. She was appointed before Sept. 11, but her role has obviously taken on added importance.

"Secretary [of State Colin] Powell has been actively promoting enhanced funding and recruitment for public diplomacy programs," said Philip Reeker, deputy spokesman for the State Department at a press briefing. He added that the appointment of Beers "underscores that we have brought into the administration one of the nation's most effective communicators and executives, and it is indicative of the importance we place on public diplomacy."

For its part, the Ad Council has extensive experience working with the government to develop powerful branding campaigns for intangible concepts, such as good parenting and crime-fighting. Prior to its developing relationship with the State Department, the Ad Council had long-standing relationships with the White House, Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Army.

Founded as the War Advertising Council two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the group created campaigns that exhorted Americans to buy war bonds and plant victory gardens. In the 50 years since, the council has created many memorable campaigns, including "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" and "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

On Sept. 12, the Ad Council was already working on what messages it could create to help the country cope with the unfolding horror.

By Sept. 21, the council had PSAs on the air with First Lady Laura Bush counseling parents to talk to their kids, to "tell them they are safe and that they are loved."

The organization came up with the idea when Ad Council President Peggy Conlon was watching Mrs. Bush on the news. "I saw her on camera talking to parents with that message, and it seemed very comforting coming from her," said Conlon, a former publisher of BROADCASTING & CABLE.

After rolling out the Laura Bush ad, the Ad Council kept pushing hard, releasing spots on mental health with Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al Gore, and Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Powell. The Council also produced radio ads saying that hate and violence toward innocent Arab-Americans is not the answer to hateful acts.

One of the most widely played ads has been a spot called "I am an American," which the Ad Council created with ad agency GSD&M—one of the "hottest shops in the country," Conlon noted. That spot features people of different races and cultures who are all American citizens. The ad is simple but powerful, and stations across the country picked it up immediately.

"The amount of public-service time may fluctuate," said Conlon, "but what we focus on is getting a larger share of the available time. The message has to be right, the creative has to be wonderful, and the stations have to love it and want to run it."

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