Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Monday, January 28, 2008


In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, several advertising industry associations decided to join together to develop a public service advertising campaign to inspire and rally the American people. They turned to the Advertising Council, an organization that for more than a half-century had coordinated and distributed public service announcements of all types.
Several advertising agencies also donated their services to develop the television and radio spots and print ads that constituted the resulting ‘‘Campaign for Freedom.’’ The first phase was launched to coincide with the 2002 Fourth of July celebrations; the second phase was timed for the two-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There was no budget for the effort, which relied on free airtime and print space from media companies. The commercials and ads explored the theme of freedom in a number of ways: positing an America in which people could be arrested for asking about the wrong book at a public library; portraying the real-life stories of people who fled repressive countries to come to America; and celebrating America’s religious and cultural inclusiveness.
Following the first two phases of the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom,’’ the purpose shifted from inspiration to action, as the audience was urged to participate in civic activities such as voting and to volunteer time to worthwhile causes. One of the ads in the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ won a One Show award, but while it drew praise from many quarters, the company was also criticized by others, who viewed the advertising as little more than propaganda.

No different than anyone else, members of the advertising industry were stunned by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. And like many citizens, they gave thought to what gave strength to the country and made it unique among nations. Employees of Texas ad agency GSD&M were in Maryland in a client meeting when the attacks unfolded, and because air flights were suspended for several days, they drove home to Texas. With ample time for reflection, they decided to create a public service announcement (PSA) that celebrated America’s diversity, a message with resonance given the suspicions that were laid upon people of Middle Eastern descent or mistaken for it. GSD&M broadcast producers quickly lined up pro bono help from directors, producers, and editors, and the agency’s president contacted the Ad Council about being a partner in the endeavor. The organization agreed to participate and for the first time in its history became the sole signatory of a PSA. The result was the ‘‘I Am an American’’ spot, featuring a wide range of men and women, young and old, of different races, declaring, ‘‘I am an American.’’
The ‘‘I Am an American’’ spot aired within 10 days of the attacks. Also during this time three advertising industry associations—the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the American Advertising Federation (AAF)—met and began to plan a full-fledged advertising campaign to help Americans reflect on the bedrock of democracy: freedom. It was also agreed that the Ad Council was the proper vehicle to lead what would become the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom.’’ Unlike traditional Ad Council campaigns that were developed by a single agency, this effort would be the joint work, free of charge, of four agencies: Omnicom Group’s Chicago office of DDB, the Los Angeles office of TBWA\Chiat\Day, DeVito/Verdi of New York, and the New York office of Lowe & Partners Worldwide, a subsidiary of Interpublic Group of Companies. Heading the effort would be Philip B. Dusenberry, who had recently retired as chairman of BBDO North America. Instead of relying on the backing of a sponsoring organization, the Ad Council, in another break from tradition, sought funding to cover production and distribution costs from a variety of sources, including ad agencies, agency employees, trade groups, advertisers, and media companies. After several months of development, the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ was ready to launch in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

While the ‘‘I Am an American’’ spot aired at a time when the emotional reaction to the September 11 events was fresh and raw, by the time the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ broke nine months later, the mood in the country was somewhat different. ‘‘Right after 9/11 there was this upsurge of patriotism in America,’’ Dusenberry commented in a radio interview on New York radio station WNYC in July 2002. ‘‘But over time that sense has waned a little bit because other things come into play and people let this blessing we have, which is called freedom, flip to the back of their mind.’’ In essence every strata of America was the campaign’s target audience. For those people who had grown somewhat complacent in the months since the terrorist attacks, the PSAs were a wake-up call. For people more vigilant, they offered reinforcement.

The ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ lacked traditional competition. People were not being asked to choose between tyranny and freedom, to buy democracy over totalitarianism. They were not even asked to take any particular action, other than to ruminate about the nature and importance of freedom. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered in America’s involvement in World War II, Ad Council ads pursued patriotic themes but with a more tangible purpose: to sell war bonds to finance the war to achieve the greater end of preserving freedom and democracy. As Dusenberry explained to WNYC, ‘‘Most advertising is designed to sell a product, a service, a brand. In this particular case, this advertising is asking people to feel something.’’

The Advertising Council, originally called the War Advertising Council, was launched in the midst of World War II in 1942. Not only did the organization develop ‘‘Buy War Bonds’’ advertisements, but it also coined the famous ‘‘Loose Lips Sink Ships’’ slogan and introduced the United States to Rosie the Riveter in an effort to recruit women into the workforce to support the war effort. Following the war the Ad Council devoted itself to peacetime endeavors, such as the work it did for the National Safety Council.

Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive officer of the Ad Council, told Jane L. Levere of the New York Times in July 2002, ‘‘According to research, Americans are looking for messages that will inform, involve and inspire them during the war on terrorism.’’ The theme that resonated was freedom. Hence it was the concept of freedom that the alliance of advertising associations decided to focus on in the aftermath of September 11. ‘‘Freedom is our strength,’’ Conlon explained to Levere. ‘‘However, freedom is also at risk. The ‘Campaign for Freedom’ recognizes that it is every American’s responsibility to protect the foundation of our nation, and this is the heart of the strategy. The campaign wasn’t designed to define what freedom is, but to stimulate a dialogue, to make people think about it.’’
To emphasize the theme of freedom, the campaign was timed to coincide with the Fourth of July. The first phase of the campaign included eight television commercials and one print ad, which the Ad Council distributed to 10,000 print and broadcast outlets. All the PSAs were run in advertising time and space donated by the media. A wide swath of network and cable TV channels—including ABC, CBS, Fox, Bravo, Discovery, Lifetime, and VH1—immediately began to carry the ads. DeVito/Verdi produced four of the initial eight television spots and supplied the campaign’s tag line:
‘‘Freedom. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Protect it.’’ Three of the DeVito/Verdi spots asked what life would be like in America if freedoms that many people took for granted were lost: freedom to read whatever material they like, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. In the spot called ‘‘Library,’’ for example, a man was detained because he requested a pair of banned books. The fourth DeVito/Verdi spot was perhaps the most notable of the first wave of commercials. Called ‘‘Main Street USA,’’ it showed a stretch of row houses in Bayonne, New Jersey, as a voice-over said, ‘‘On September 11th, terrorists tried to change America forever.’’ After a fade to black the same street was shown again, this time adorned with a multitude of American flags, sometimes two or three to a house. ‘‘Well, they succeeded,’’ noted the voice-over. A white title card then revealed the campaign’s tagline. The three spots produced by Lowe dealt with the concepts of freedom of choice and freedom of opportunity. The spot titled ‘‘Change’’ showed students in a multicultural classroom studying the civil-rights movement. Another, called ‘‘Choice,’’ reminded Americans about the abundance of choices they enjoy at the supermarket. The lone DDB spot, ‘‘Arrest,’’ showed the police pull over a young man, drag him out of his car, and then after finding newspapers in the back seat, handcuff and arrest him. The copy read, ‘‘Imagine America without freedom.’’ The print ad in the first phase was developed by TBWA\Chiat\Day. The text accompanying a picture of a tattered America flag declared, ‘‘Read this ad. Or, don’t. An exercise in freedom. By deciding to continue reading, you’ve just demonstrated a key American freedom—choice. And should you choose to turn the page, take a nap or go dye your hair blue, that’s cool too.’’ The second phase of the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ was launched in September 2003, more than a year after the initial wave of PSAs, this time coinciding with the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks. ‘‘Main Street USA’’ was brought back, and three new television and radio spots and a pair of print ads were distributed as well. Produced by Ogilvy & Mather, the three television spots were presented as documentary-style interviews. They featured three immigrants and their stories of fleeing oppression to come to America. In the spot called ‘‘Tom,’’ Tom Tor told how he escaped the ‘‘killing fields’’ of Cambodia. With images of the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, and excerpts from the Constitution in the background, Tor explained, ‘‘If I stayed in Cambodia, I would have been dead . . .Why did I come here? Freedom.’’ The subjects of the other spots were Eugenia Dallas, who fled the Soviet Union during the time of Stalin, and Yuri Gevorigian, who escaped torture in Armenia. The spots were cut in 30-and 60-second versions, and the audio was used to fashion radio spots. The two print ads in the second phase of the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ were created by TBWA\Chiat\Day had also focused on the immigrant experience, reminding the audience that virtually everyone in America was the offspring of immigrants, while celebrating the country’s diversity. The copy of one ad featured the headline ‘‘A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Are Walking Down the Street. (There’s no punch line.)’’ The text, accompanying a picture of three religious men on a street corner, then posed the question ‘‘What do you get when you mix Christianity, Judaism and Islam? In many parts of the world it’s a recipe for disaster. Yet in America, it’s a formula that’s endured for over 200 years.’’

The ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ became a long-term effort for the Ad Council and its alliance of advertising agencies. Subsequent phases were added to move beyond the initial inspirational messages and to call on people to express freedom in action through participation in everyday civic activities, such as voting. The campaign was also aided by a dedicated website, http://www.explorefreedomusa. org, where all the advertising could be found and visitors could learn more about the Constitution, American history, and homeland security, as well as access links for registering to vote or volunteering their time. It was difficult, if not impossible, to gauge the effectiveness of the ‘‘Campaign for Freedom,’’ given that its goal was ethereal. But it did succeed in raising money from such media companies as Knight-Ridder and the Hearst Corp. as well as major corporations like the Coca-Cola Company and Home Depot. It also received an abundance of free media time and space, worth tens of millions of dollars. Levere reported that ‘‘some advertising industry experts praised the campaign’s intent and execution.’’ TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles won an award for the print ad ‘‘A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Are Walking Down the Street,’’ taking home a Bronze Pencil in the Consumer Magazine category of the 2004 One Show, sponsored by New York City-based One Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recognizing and promoting excellence in advertising.
The ‘‘Campaign for Freedom’’ was not without its share of critics, however. Levere interviewed New York University media studies professor Mark Crispin Miller, who deemed the ads unfocused and exploitative. ‘‘The campaign is inappropriate because these ads are not thought-provoking but emotionally manipulative. They are bits of rousing propaganda,’’ he commented. ‘‘What we need now in a time of terror is more information, more truth, more clarity of mind. The Ad Council is merely giving us a kind of feel-good blather for the nation’s couch potatoes.’’ Minneapolis freelance writer and activist Jeff Nygaard offered an even more cynical view of the Ad Council’s efforts in Nygaard Notes: ‘‘They are selling, first of all, the idea that ads are good things, sources of information and inspiration—Ads are our friends. This message is brought to you, after all, by the ‘Ad Council.’’’ The Ad Council’s Conlon answered the critics by telling Levere, ‘‘There are always critics and skeptics, no matter how well-intentioned anyone’s efforts are. We’re doing everything within our power to protect these people’s right to say whatever they want to say about this campaign.’’

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