Everyone remembers with great clarity where they were when they learned of the terror attacks of 9/11. I was in a meeting in the basement of a hotel in Washington D.C., having taken the 7:30 a.m. shuttle from New York that morning. What followed the shock and overwhelming sadness was a tremendous desire to return to New York City to be with my loved ones and colleagues, to do whatever could be done to help. With the city in lockdown, it wasn’t until 9 a.m. the next day that I climbed the stairs out of Penn Station for the short walk to the Ad Council. What I found there was a staff — and the entire advertising industry — reaching out to help our city and our country heal.
Within 24 hours of the attacks, we returned to our wartime footing (having been founded during World War II) and reached out to organizations conducting relief efforts — including the Red Cross, United Way, Save the Children and the City of New York — to help raise awareness of their messages.
One of our earliest ads, “I am an American,” was developed pro bono by GSD&M, an ad agency in Austin, Tex. On 9/11, Roy Spence, president of the agency, was just outside D.C. with his staff and about to meet with a client when the second plane struck the World Trade Center. With all planes grounded, the team had to drive back to Texas. Roy and his team thought about what they could do to soothe a wounded nation. During the drive, they began to discuss the identity of America and how “American” means different things to different people. The agency called directors across the country and ask them to film Americans from every background and age throughout the country staring straight into the camera stating, “I am an American.” Typically, Ad Council PSA campaigns take six months for development and production. “I am an American” was produced and on air within 10 days of the tragedies.
The spot was quickly embraced, and the public response was unprecedented. The PSA celebrated our country’s cultural identity and diversity and truly united our nation. It helped reinvigorate a sense of pride and appreciation for our freedom. And it also showed how quickly the ad and media industries can come together in a time of crisis.
Subsequent PSAs focused on anti-discrimination, disaster relief, mental health assistance, volunteerism and freedom. All the ads were created pro bono by the nation’s leading advertising agencies, and the ads received extraordinary donated media support.
Ten years later, we are honored to join the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum to raise awareness and encourage support for the new memorial. The campaign communicates to Americans that we should all honor, remember and reunite during the days and weeks leading up to the anniversary
We have also worked with GSD&M to re-release that amazing spot “I am an American” with a new end-frame commemorating the 10-year anniversary.
Media outlets throughout the country have stepped up and provided early commitments of support for these PSAs, and they began donating time and space for the ads almost immediately after their distribution two weeks ago.
The upcoming anniversary will mean something different for each of us, but I hope that in some way, it allows people to come together again in the spirit of unity we all remember from the days and weeks after 9/11.
E pluribus unum. Ten years later, we are still one.