National Advertising Council
The National Advertising Council was formed in 1942 as the War Advertising Council and for the period from 1945 to the 1960s became one of the leading pan-corporate lobby groups, one of the five members of the 'business aristocracy' as William Domhoff put it. In this period it was known as the National Advertising Council but later changed its name to the Advertising Council often called the Ad Council.
The Advertising 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, also began as a war campaign in response to the fear that Japanese submarines might start forest fires by shelling the west coast of the United States.
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. According to documents from the Council's archives, the group aimed to enhance public opinion of and co-opt liberal opposition to advertising by using it to promote liberal and popular causes.
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 US Department of Justice); and the "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" campaign for the US Department of Transportation.
William Domhoff shows that the Council was well connected to other corporate lobby groups:
- The final major association of the American business aristocracy is very different from the other four. It is the National Advertising Council. The NAG was formed during World War II as the War Advertising Gouncil and was designed to promote such government programs as rationing and war bonds. After the war it continued as a public service paid for by the large corporations. 'It's a voluntary gift to America by U. S. business,' explained a two-page advertisement in a 1965 issue of Time Magazine.' The council's best-known figure is Smokey the Bear, but it also supports the Red Cross, the Peace Corps, the United Nations, Traffic Safety, Youth Fitness, and Radio Free Europe. As of 1958, eight of the 19 members of its Public Policy Committee were members of the Council on Foreign Relations. Four of the eight who are in the CFR, along with four others, are corporate executives or members of the upper class. The others are college presidents (three), labor leaders (two), and a variety of professional persons. Among the upper-class members of this council are John J. McCloy, a leading figure in the Council on Foreign Relations, Benjamin Buttenweiser, a leading figure in the Foreign Policy Association, and Paul G. Hoffman, a leading figure in the Committee for Economic Development. However, the most obvious basis of control in this case is corporate financing.
- Radio Free Europe, one of the NAC's benefactions, is the largest of the nongovernmental radio stations beamed at the Communist world. It is aimed exclusively toward the five Communist countries of Eastern Europe. RFE is an operation of the Free Europe Committee, Inc., founded in 1949 and backed by funds raised by the Committee's Crusade for Freedom. General Dwight Eisenhower, later president of Columbia University and of the United States, and General Lucius D. Clay led the first fund-raising campaign, and its first directors included Clay, Allen Dulles (SR, NY), C. D. Jackson (SR, NY), and A. A. Berle, Jr. (SR, NY). Other upper-class Americans who have been officials of the Free Europe Committee or one of its subcommittees include William Clayton, Henry Ford II, Herbert H. Lehman, Henry R. Luce, and Charles M. Spofford (SR, NY).'
Sharon Beder outlines the campaign launched to defend the system of private enterprise in 1947:
- In 1947 the Ad Council launched a nationwide public ‘education’ campaign to sell the free enterprise system to the American people. It received “unprecedented amounts of money” from business toward the $100 million economic education campaign “to ‘sell’ the American economic system” to the public, including large donations from General Foods, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Johnson and Johnson, Procter and Gamble, Goodrich, and Republic Steel.
- In this campaign free market was described as “the most democratic institution ever devised by man—whereby all the people decide every day what goods and services are to be produced and in what quantities, making their decisions by establishing the prices they are willing to pay”. Competition was depicted as constantly forcing “the seller to keep improving the goods and services he offers”.
- Ironically the individualist message of competition and self interest was sold through a campaign that sought to promote industrial harmony and the idea that we should all cooperate and work together to protect the system and achieve the prosperity it promised. The campaign argued that increased production could be achieved through mechanisation, better efficiency and the cooperation of workers and management.
- In the first two years of the Ad Council campaign, 600 pages of ads were published at no cost, newspapers printed 13 million of lines of advertising for free, 8000 billboards were erected, and radio messages were broadcast into “almost every home in America”. The advertisements offered a free pamphlet “The Miracle of America” and 1.5 million copies of this were distributed by 1950. Many more had been reprinted in magazines and company publications. By the end of 1949, the Advertising Council’s campaign had blanketed the country with over 500 advertisements in national magazines, newspaper supplements and business publications, 8,000 newspaper advertisements, 6,000 outdoor posters and messages carried by almost all the network radio programs resulting in more than 2 billion “listener impressions”.
- The campaign was based on the assumption that if Americans were taught to think correctly about the free enterprise system then they would approve of business activities and not call for government regulation of them. Organisations such as the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) did studies to prove that Americans were ignorant of economics and the fundamentals of the American economic system and needed economic ‘education’. However these studies were essentially surveys of how strongly business values were held in the community.
- 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)
- Advertising Council official website
- Advertising Council archives
- SourceWatch article on the Advertising Council
- Outdoor Advertising Association of America homepage
- Peggy Conlon, President and CEO on Radio program Political Inversion
- ^ G. William Domhoff, (1967) Who Rules America, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Spectrum Books, Prentice Hall pp. 76
- ^ G. William Domhoff, (1967) Who Rules America, Spectrum Books, pp. 76
- ^ Time, 8 January 1965, p. 40-1.
- ^ David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Invisible Government, New York: Random House, 1964, p.321.
- ^Robert Griffith. ‘The Selling of America: The Advertising Council and American Politics, 1942-1960.' Business History Review Autumn, 1983, p. 401.
- ^Advertising Council quoted in C. C. Carr. ‘Translating the American Economic System.' PR Journal 5 (6), 1949, p. 4.
- ^Griffith. ‘The Selling of America.' , p. 400.
- ^Ibid., p. 402.
- ^M. A. Mandell. 'A History of the Advertising Council.' Doctor of Commercial Science, School of Business, Indiana University. , p. 248.
- ^Sharon Beder, 'The Role of "Economic Education" in Achieving Capitalist Hegemony', State of Nature 2, Sept/Oct 2006. This paper draws on: Sharon Beder, 'Free-Market Missionaries', Earthscan, London, 2006.