From Rosie the Riveter, convincing the women of America that working outside the house was not only socially acceptable, but desirable, to Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, public service advertisements have been an integral part of the American tradition since the beginning of World War II (Ad). The Ad Council, formed in 1942 to assist the War Advertising Council in selling war bonds, is the organization credited with developing the entire segment of public service advertising; they claim, for the purposes of “raising awareness, inspiring action and saving lives” (Ad). By the present, Americans will find it difficult to interact with their surroundings without engaging a message of awareness, thrift, or morality from the Ad council. These messages are delivered in a variety of media, including print, television, and on the Internet and are regarded by many as Americana; however, the true nature of public service advertisements is deeply rooted in the anti-Axis propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s. Even today, the tone and delivery of Ad Council advertisements suggest a message of morality and behavior befitting of a good American.
Returning to the example of Rosie the Riveter, she was the persona lent to the idea that America needed to generate nearly 2 million jobs to continue the war effort during World War II. Indeed, the Ad Council saw many of their most memorable campaigns into circulation during the period between 1941 and 1945, including: Smokey Bear and “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, both released in 1942. The purpose of these ads was to ensure American support of the war effort in Europe and the Pacific by pushing awareness of domestic issues and fostering a sense of self regulation, as many government workers and interior servicemen had joined the ranks of the Army and Marine Corps. After the war, the Ad council turned its focus to fighting the problems of America inside America. With crying Indians to end pollution and slogans like “The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love” (Ad) to support the Peace Corps, Ad Council propaganda has remained at the forefront of a movement to keep Americans informed of what is right, true, good, and moral.
The Ad Council is chartered as a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and solicits donations, volunteers, pro-bono advertising development, and media space from its partners. On its list of donors, nearly every DOW 30 company is represented in some capacity, as are smaller cap companies like Microsoft and Google as well as individual donors (Ad). The funds and time donated are funneled into extensive amounts of market research and campaign development to stay abreast of issues affecting all Americans; as the Ad Council website stipulates in their requirements for what can become a campaign (no specific demographics or narrow causes). The nature of the Ad Council's campaigns is necessarily one that must affect viewers indiscriminately, and so lends itself to moral order thought dissemination, generated by the brightest minds in the advertising sphere and funded by America's biggest companies.
Consequently, this organization is perhaps the best equipped in the U.S. to subject the entire nation regularly to its agendas. Additionally, most Americans have never seen a time without public service advertisements. We must then, be forced to regard the Ad Council as highly integrated system of control, employed by the U.S. Government and all major U.S. Corporations to its self-professed end of raising awareness, inspiring action, and saving lives. This entails the latter as having the power not only to rule us and sell to us, respectively, but also play an instrumental role in convincing us as to what we should do. Arguably, this is the purpose of all advertising and would cause many to regard the latter claim as obvious; however the means are not in question, it is the end that is concerning.
Given the altruistic nature of many of these campaigns, viewers may find it difficult to disagree with the messages offered. The danger in this practice is over-repetition of a singular association: namely the association between common-sense or positive social messages and the Ad Council logo. If the average American is affected in the manner that the Ad Council intends, he will believe that, if not immediately then eventually that everything posited by the Ad Council is truth, absolutely. Given the origins of the Ad Council as propagandists and their ability to marshal resources, the unwillingness of average Americans to question their motives is not only dangerous, it is potentially fatal to free thought. Another potential side-effect of mass-market-morality is especially dangerous when it presents in the lazier castes of American society: absolution of responsibility for developing one's own morality. In all certainty, the average American has developed a penchant for instant gratification and laziness; as Jules Lobel puts it, “Americans' appetite for immediate gratification has only accelerated . . . to the point where today they gorge on fast food, sound bites, and one-liners. They breathe, move, think, and take in everything amid a culture of fast and faster. “ Given that conclusion, the idea that Americans would opt for a pre-packaged morality in lieu of spending time and thought power deriving one of their own, vacates the sphere of ridiculous entirely and becomes highly plausible instead.
In conclusion, the Ad Council combines the market forces of the most powerful economy on the planet with the most skillful advertisers in America and markets morality to Americans unwilling or unable to challenge the meaning or the source. As a means of control, the Ad Council is incredibly effective in its approach: turning the obvious into important and the innocuous into moral law. The partnership fosters the ideals of consumerism and through its work, the Ad Council reinforces the consume-till-content mindset by convincing people that even morality must come from the open market. To that end, if we hope to ever see a society in which Americans fully evaluate the things they consume, from Big-Macs to morality, the Ad Council must be viewed as what it truly is, as must its audience. Before Americans lose all control over what they believe, they must take responsibility for what they should do, starting with thinking for themselves.
Ad Council, The. <http://www.adcouncil.org>. 04/26/2009.
Lobel, Jules. “America's Penchant for Instant Gratification.” CSMonitor.com. <http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1118/p09s02-coop.html>. 11/18/2003. 04/26/2009.