Smokey Rejoice: Recession Doesn't Hurt Public Service Ads

The donations that spurred memorable public service ads are still going strong.

ByABC News
November 10, 2009, 2:56 PM

Dec. 2, 2009 — -- Remember Smokey the Bear, the crash test dummies named Vince and Larry and McGruff, the Crime Dog? These classic characters from nonprofit advertising campaigns were popular and inventive enough to rival any corporate mascot, from Mr. Clean to Tony the Tiger.

But the difference between Smokey and Tony was that the Smokey the Bear forest fire campaign was made possible by donations – advertising agencies donating their time and talent to create memorable spots. Media companies also play a part in making nonprofit ads possible – they donate airtime and space.

These days, of course, are tough ones for both ad agencies and media outlets alike, as they struggle with layoffs and shrinking profits. One could easily conclude that cash-strapped ad and media companies have less to donate – so does that mean the future is cloudy for future Smokeys?

Actually, the answer is no.

In spite of the current economic challenges facing companies, advertising agencies and media outlets continue their longstanding partnership to assist non-profit organizations with free creative services and media. According to the Ad Council and The Partnership For A Drug Free America (PDFA), media space donations have increased and agency participation has held steady.

We all are familiar with campaigns from the Ad Council and PDFA. (Disclosure note: My advertising agency, Vigilante, has created TV spots for The Ad Council and PDFA.) The United Negro College Fund has helped Historically Black Colleges (HBC's) raise more than 2.2 billion dollars with the now famous slogan "A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste," written by a copywriter at ad agency Young and Rubicam. Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they have personally stopped someone from drinking and driving. Much credit must go to the Ad Council campaign "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk."