Ad Council

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The Advertising Council, commonly known as the Ad Council, is an American privately funded non-profit organization that distributes public service announcements on behalf of various sponsors, including non-profit organizations and agencies of the United States government.

The Ad Council generally does not produce public service advertisements itself, rather, it acts as a coordinator and distributor. The Ad Council accepts requests from sponsor organizations for advertising campaigns that focus on particular social issues. To qualify, an issue must be non-partisan and have national relevance. The Ad Council then assigns each campaign to a volunteer advertising agency that produces the actual advertisements. Finally, the Ad Council distributes the finished advertisements to media outlets.


A history of Ad Council published by itself in 2002 described its origins as arising from the hostility to business after the Depression. "Advertising people were concerned that criticism could erode the credibility of advertising and lead to legislation that would tax its use and regulate its content," it stated. By 1940 and 1941 the dominant view was that the best response would be to "run ads explaining the economic value of advertising in creating jobs, wealth and low prices." Instead, James Webb Young proposed that what was needed was promotion of business but with advertising as just one component of it. On November 13-15 1941 the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies convened a meeting to canvass the future of advertising. At the meeting Young proposed public service advertising. "He saw this kind of communication as a powerful way to help people while rebuilding respect for American business and the competitive economic system which business had helped to create and needed to thrive, the Ad Council later wrote. [1]

"What will it profit us to win the battle of advertising and lose the battle of business?," Young asked. "Only through the dynamic economy can we maintain free enterprise, and with it, the advertising business. But let us do more," he said.

"It ought to be used for open propaganda in international relations, to create understanding and reduce friction. It ought to be used to wipe out such diseases of ignorance as childbed fever. It ought to do the nutritional job this country needs to have done. It ought to be the servant of music, of art, of literature and of all the forces of righteousness, even more than it is. When will we stop fighting over just the existing business and go back to selling advertising? When will we sell it into these new levels of usefulness, this larger stature?," he asked. [1]

The Ad Council was incorporated in February 1942 as the War Advertising Council for the purpose of mobilizing the advertising industry in support of the war effort. Early campaigns encouraged the purchase of war bonds and conservation of war materials. The long-running Forest Fire Prevention campaign, with Smokey Bear as its famous mascot. After the conclusion of the Second World War the War Advertising Council changed its name to the Advertising Council and shifted its focus to peacetime campaigns. [2]

Famous campaigns include the "Crying Indian" anti-pollution campaign for Keep America Beautiful; the United Negro College Fund campaign, with its slogan "A mind is a terrible thing to waste"; the McGruff campaign with its slogan "Take a bite out of crime" for the National Crime Prevention Council (in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice); and the "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" campaign for the U.S. Department of Transportation.


On its website the Ad Council states that "general operating contributions from more than 375 individuals, corporations, foundations, and constituent organizations are the Ad Council's principal source of funding." [3]


  • Robert Jackall and Janice M. Hirota, The Image Makers: Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy (University of Chicago, 2000). ISBN 0-226-38916-2 (paperback: ISBN 0-226-38917-0)

Contact Details

The Advertising Council
261 Madison Avenue
11th floor
New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 922-1500


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ad Council, Matters of Choice: Advertising in the Public Interest The Advertising Council (1942-2002) undated 2002 (approx). 2.2MB file
  2. "The Story of the Ad Council", Ad Council, accessed October 2007.
  3. Ad Council, "Frequently Asked Questions: How is the Ad Council funded?", Ad Council, accessed October 2007.

External links