This article, “In Times of Crisis and Tragedy, Advertisers Come Together,” was originally published by Advertising Week, in anticipation of Advertising Week New York (October 1-4, 2018).
The past year has been filled with some heartache and turmoil. From issues ranging from immigration, to guns, to the environment or sexual harassment–America is tired. But during difficult times, the nation, and particularly our industry, has shown a propensity for hope and a conviction to act. The year has also been filled with examples of unlikely individuals and even business adversaries standing together on the basis of shared values.
At its heart, advertising is about motivating people to make a snap judgement. We want to make you fall in love with a brand, take action or change your behavior–that moment when an ad forces you to pause and question your preconceptions is critical. The advertising industry can make the public think differently and alter course, and ultimately make society a more accepting place.
Advertisers Align for Good
Our industry’s desire to mobilize for the greater good is especially notable during times of crisis. And while we’ve seen an increase in companies taking a stand on social issues in the last year, our inclination to unite in service of the public good isn’t new.
It was James Webb Young, a senior executive from JWT, who first articulated the industry’s potential role in the 1940s. “Let us do more,” he said of advertising. “It ought to be used to create understanding and reduce friction. It ought to be used to wipe out such diseases of ignorance as childbed fever. It ought to be a servant of all the forces of righteousness, even more than it is.”
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, James Webb Young and a team of advertisers, agencies and media companies got their first chance to show their social good power. They quickly mobilized to motivate Americans to support the war effort, promoting War Bonds and reminding us that “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” This event laid the bedrock on which the Ad Council was formed.
Coming Together When it Matters Most
More than 60 years later, on September 11, 2001, the country was once again changed forever. The Ad Council recognized the immediate need to communicate messages of hope to help Americans cope and put a call out for industry help. The response was unprecedented.
GSD&M’s Roy Spence led the charge, and anticipated the potential backlash against Arab Americans and other minority groups. With the collaborative effort of photographers, media giants and volunteer agencies, they filmed scores of Americans of every background imaginable in LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Reno, Dallas, Austin and Raleigh for the now famous “I Am an American” PSAs. The spots were created and delivered to audiences in just 10 days and continue to resonate today.
The initiative we’ve shown during times of tragedy has also extended into the realm of natural disasters. Our industry rallied in 2005 in response to Hurricane Katrina and rushed to launch PSAs encouraging Americans to donate to immediate disaster relief. That goodwill and push for donations continues whenever we’re faced with tsunamis, hurricanes or other disasters. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, two of the strongest storms to hit the United States in decades, were met with expedient relief efforts–developed in under 48 hours and in market in a matter of days–made possible by the advertising and media industry.
A Continued Call to Action
Of course, not all “crises” happen over the course of a day or a week. Some quietly brew and build for years–social inequities, growing tensions and cultural clashes. In the past few years, we’ve seen growing instances of hate crimes and a greater spotlight on acts of prejudice and racism. Here too, our industry has responded.
In 2015, the Ad Council, R/GA, and a host of industry partners launched the viral “Love Has No Labels” campaign to combat implicit bias and promote inclusion. To date, the work has garnered over 300 million views worldwide.
A huge proponent of the campaign’s success comes from corporate competitors Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, P&G, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, State Farm and Google, who joined to support and activate the message. And our industry continues to push aside differences for causes that matter, a practice set to continue with the Ad Council’s Girls in STEM campaign and Teen Bullying campaign, both slated to launch this September, and our recent campaigns addressing Gun Safety (End Family Fire) and the Opioids Epidemic (The Truth About Opioids).
If we’ve learned anything in the past year and over the course of our industry’s history, it’s that together we can accomplish so much more than we ever could alone. Today, consumers have to come to expect businesses to lead the social impact charge. Our history proves time and again that by combining forces, across industries and verticals, our impact is compounded. And in times of crisis–that can mean millions of lives touched and millions of lives saved.