Peddling a Social Cause
Madison Avenue Finds Rewards and Profits in a Rash of Public Service
by Annetta Miller
and Elisa Williams
It may seem grand cause you think you're a man
But ahead baby wasn't part of the plan
This is L. L. Cool J and Cut Creator
Telling you what happens nine months later
"Smart Sex Rap" by L. L. Cool J
The music may sound like just another rap tune.
But tucked within the
pulsating rhythm of rock star L. L. Cool J is -- of all thing -- a public
service announcement about teen pregnancy. Smart Sex isn't the only social
cause seeking an audience
these day. Crusaders against drunken driving,
alcoholism and smoking are increasingly turning to
Madison Avenue's vice
squad for help.
The, Media-Advertising Partnership for a Drug-Free
America launched the largest public service
promotion ever. Funded in
part by corporate contributions, the campaign is expected to get more than
$500 million worth of adverting exposure.
Is Madison Avenue going altruistic? Well, yes and no. Advertising staffs
burdened by the humdrum
of peddling goods and services jump at the chance
to use their ingenuity for more worthy causes.
offer a fresh opportunity." says Kevin Allen, vice president of Ketchum
Advertising in New York. "You can go beyond selling a box of laundry
Although ad agencies don't accept fees for creating public
service announcements (known in the
trade as PSAs) they can profit in the
long run. After the Minneapolis agency Clarity Coverdale
to develop a pro bono campaign for a local YMCA, the national YMCA organization
asked the agency to handle its advertising, too. Since then CCF's commercial
The Minneapolis agency of Fallon McElligott
Rice has also done well with such ads. The agency
came out on top of more
than 1,000 entries in a contest sponsored by the Reader's Digest to
drunken driving. Its winning poster featured blind musician Stevie Wonder
unforgettable warning: "Before I'll Ride With a Drunk.
I'll Drive Myself. "
Says one advertising executive: "They've
used A public service announcement to catapult
themselves into prominence."
Public-service ads can also foster entrepreneurial spirits. Neal Kalisher's
Radio company in Lake Worth, Fla., specializes in adding
public-service messages to commercials
paid for by local businesses. The
secret, Kalisher says, is tailoring ads to a particular client.
warn motorists not to drink and drive, auto-parts stores can pitch compliance
new seat-belt law and children's clothing stores can remind people
to watch out for school buses.
Kalisher, who has 300 clients for his custom-made
ads, is clear about his motives. "I
don't want to make us out to be
crusaders," he says. "This is a profit business."
enterprises work public-service angle, too. Member Only, the New York-based
chain, has announced that it will donate its entire $6 million
advertising budget to an anti-drug
campaign featuring among others, former Yankees
manager Lou Piniella and New Jersey Nets basketball
star Buck Williams.
The catch: Piniella and Williams appear in the advertisements wearing --
else -- Members Only jackets.
Other sponsors range from the federal government and local municipalities
to the American Lung
Association. The social problems they combat are diverse.
The Magazine Publishers' Association
launched a $26 million campaign
designed to attack adult illiteracy, while the National Council on
is embarking on a public-service promotion to discourage drinking by children
Other PSA's are aimed at lesser known social problems. One
city hospital produced a public-service
campaign warning people to make
sure their bath water wasn't too hot. A humane society sent out a
urging pet owner not to let their dogs drink antifreeze. At its best, public-service
on the same marketing techniques used in regular product advertising. When
NW Ayer embarked on its youth-alcoholism campaign, it
relied heavily on psychographics, which
measures attitudes and emotional
responses to advertising.
To test ideas about teenage alcoholics, executives
used the most tried and true of psychographic
devices: the focus group.
The agency rounded up 100 suburban and inner-city children between the
ages 9 and 14 and divided them into small groups to discuss alcohol abuse
among their peers and
advertising approaches that would best discourage
kids from getting drunk. The Ayer executives
drew two major conclusions:
first, the ads should use ordinary teenagers rather than models to
the attention of teenage alcoholics; and, second, they should offer young
in resisting the temptation of alcohol. The resulting campaign,
"Say no. And say yes to
life," incorporated both suggestions.
But research means nothing without well-executed ads. Benton & Bowles
in New York once
auditioned 100 actors before finding what it considered
the perfect face for a spot on adult
illiteracy. The agency
held out for an actor who could stumble realistically over his words while
reading a book to his young daughter.
When Ketchum Advertising chose a
photographer for the print portion of its teenage-pregnancy
hired Francesco Scavullo, a leading fashion photographer with a flair for
The agency believed that Scavullo could capture the sexual
intensity of teenagers and the peer
preasure they face. The ads, which
show attractive teenagers reciting such traditional come-ons
me, I won't get you pregnant," are accompanied by a telephone number
the city's counseling and health services.
The results of public-service campaigns are difficult to verify. But
research data shows the
the number of forest fires
has been cut in half since Smoky Bear advertising began, and contributions
to the United Negro College Fund campaign have increased from $11 million
to $30 million since its
ads first appeared.
Campaigns in which the desired result is to change behavior as well
as minds are tougher to
quantify. One that did show results was a magazine
ad sponsored by Utica Mutual Insurance Co.
that included a "Students
Against Drunken Driving Contract" for pupils and their
parents. The magazine and Utica's
home office was bombarded with requests for copies of the document.
The supply of public-service announcements far exceeds the demand. A
CBS spokesman says the network
received 5,500 ideas, storyboards and finished
public-service announcements in a recent year and
ran nearly 17,000 spots, up
from 10,700 from the previous year. (Public-service announcements fulfill
Commission regulations requiring broadcast stations to broadcast in the public
The number of organizations seeking to air their advertisements on the
networks grew 40 percent in a six year period. So stiff is
the competition that Kerry Crawford,
associate research director at Ketchum
Advertising in Pittsburgh, suggest that sponsors are beginning
the need for strategic thinking and planning.
In the scramble to get a
good word out, nonprofit organizations may soon have to peddle themselves
the way Madison Avenue peddles laundry detergent.