Forbes Agency Council: “Lessons From Some Of The Ad Council’s Most Iconic Ads,” by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips

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In one of the Ad Council’s most recent ads, a steely-eyed woman in a trench coat emblazoned with a Red Cross badge holds up a small torch alight with a yellow and red flame. Her white wings stand out in the background, which is red on one angled side, with blue and white rays on the other. The rays stem from a light-blue globe above her head, which is encircled by the headline “Stay Safe, Stay Strong, Stay Home.”

The Ad Council emerged in 1941 as “an organization that could bring the entire advertising industry together in service of social good.” For decades, the nonprofit has partnered with advertising agencies to create campaigns that inspire our nation at pivotal times in history, and its ads have emerged as some of the most iconic of our time.

What can marketers learn from them?
  • Smokey Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog, the Crash Test Dummies — they have been in our living rooms, on our vacations and in our minds for years. All of these characters make broad issues relatable to truly connect with target audiences. Smokey Bear’s park ranger hat and the authoritative slogan, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” suggest the brand archetype of the service provider. Voice-of-the-customer data — collected through a “name that dog” contest — gave McGruff his name. Vince and Larry, the crash test dummies, were so relatable that action figures were created based on them. You can use the same tactics — brand archetypes, voice-of-the-customer data and edutainment — to deepen relatability and inspire target audience loyalty for your brand.
  • “Take the keys. Call a friend. Take a stand” reads the Ad Council’s classic drunk-driving prevention ad. The copy is in active voice. It consists of three short sentences that contain three words each. Too often in communications, we overthink things when, in fact, the message should be short, clear and simple. Strip away extraneous language to make an impact.

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