At the National Association of Broadcasters' annual meeting a number of years ago, former Advertising Council Chairman
Alex Kroll (chairman emeritus, Young &
Rubicam Inc.) asked the networks to donate one prime-time second each night
to every million kids in America. His request stems from the Ad Council's
children's initiative, wherein the Ad Council
devote the majority of its resources to developing public service messages
that benefit children.
By allotting 60 seconds each night for public service advertising campaigns,
the networks will participate in
a massive effort to help improve the lives
of American families, according to Mr. Kroll. His comments sparked a
debate in the press
as to the definition of public service advertising, as well as to the amount
of time currently
donated by the networks for PSAs.
Ms Wooden then weighed in on the subject. "On behalf of the Ad Council, the largest provider of public service
in the country, I would like to clarify our position," she said.
Not All Are Equal
All PSAs are not created equal. There are essentially three different
- PSAs created for non-profit organizations that educate audiences about
important issues (such as preventing
drunk driving or crime) that fall
into the area of the sponsor's expertise. The media have historically provided
generous support for these campaigns by airing them in donated time.
- Network promos that feature their own program stars discussing issues
such as drug abuse prevention, and
which sometimes refer viewers to a toll-free
number to call for more information. In some cases, these spots
with a non-profit organization and may even be paid for by a corporation.
- Another form of "public service advertising" can be more accurately
called cause-related marketing.
An example of this is Anheuser-Busch's
recent ads that promote responsible drinking and that are purchased by
While we applaud these alternative forms of information dissemination,
these messages (specifically network promos)
do not technically comply
with the networks' own definition of public service advertising: that the
non-sectarian, non-commercial and non-partisan. The promos are
very effective methods of raising public awareness
of products, networks
and even social issues, but they displace the PSAs whose single purpose
is to educate the public.
Why is the Ad Council concerned about other producers of "public service"
messages when we are all working
for a common good cause?
PSA Time Has Fallen
The Ad Council has noticed an alarming trend: PSA time has decreased
in the past three years from 12 seconds
in prime time each hour to just
5 seconds. In contrast, the amount of time network TV devotes during prime
to promotional spots has ballooned in recent years to 12 minutes nightly.That's
4 minutes of each primetime hour.
The public has come to depend on the media for airing PSAs, and the Ad
Council is considered a trusted
provider of valuable information. Founded
in 1942, our original mission was to mobilize Americans to support the
war effort. Today, the Ad Council addresses issues of contemporary social
importance. As rated time decreases,
the Ad Council fears the messages
of these important campaigns will not reach their target audience.
We support the networks' efforts to raise public awareness of important
social issues by running network
promos, but we ask that 1 of the 4 minutes
devoted to promos each prime-time hour be turned over to public
messages that are sponsored by non-profit organizations, and that also depend
on donated time.
Their own definition of what qualifies for public service is the
message has got to be non-commercial,
non-sectarian, non-partisan, What
they are doing is cause-related marketing. It shouldn't
groups that have no other access to the media.
"Using Jimmy Smits [of ABC's "NYPD Blue"] to say something,
I don't think should displace
the American Cancer Society," she added.
The TV networks countered that the Ad Council's complaint is just sour
"They are playing fast and with the truth. It's very shocking,"
said Rosalyn Weiman,
NBC's exec VP-broadcast standards. "They go out
of their way to get celebrities to be spokesmen
because role models get
more attention, but [they] are upset when we do it."
Ms. Weiman said that by using its stars, NBC greatly increases response
the messages generate.
She cited an ad from the Ad Council for new teachers
that drew 2,000 responses, saying a similar
one featuring a network TV
star drew 55,000.
Janice Gretemeyer, ABC's VP-media relations said using stars "adds
credibility to the spots."
Ms. Wooden, however, warned that the networks are toying with the whole
reason that PSAs work.
"PSAs are the most credible forms of advertising because they are
non-commercial. That is where
credibility comes from," she said.
Mr. Hundt last week, in a new letter responding to Mr. Fritts, expressed
concern about the switch to network messages.
"The network promo/PSA hybrids have an obvious commercial purpose
- brightening a network's brand identity and promoting a network's stars,"
he wrote, adding that such spots shouldn't displace PSAs.
Prime-Time Placement Vital
It is vital that public service advertising air during prime-time hours
in order to generate the impressive audience response network promos have
received. When PSAs are run during the middle of the night, the people
who most urgently need the information do not benefit. PSAs-not just promos-must
receive at least a small portion of the prime-time slate designated for
public service messages.
Fifty-five years ago, the broadcast industry formed a social compact with
the ad industry to provide free time for ads that educate the public. But
the compact has begun to fray. New competition, new consolidations, new
technology and a new pace has tom at it; but
the idea remains powerful
and effective. We need to renew the original compact again; we need a joint
venture between the networks and the public service advertising to help
Ms. Wooden is the former president of the Advertising Council, New