The Mysterious Ad Council

TO: Matt Alice:

President Clinton and President Bush the Uno, in the TV commercial asking for donations for tsunami relief, I'm sure volunteered their time. But do they receive residuals when the commercial plays? And what about other actors in public service announcements, like that high school girl where a teacher intercepts a note from her mom? She would be a millionaire by now, as often as that commercial runs. And what exactly is the Ad Council that produces all of these commercials?

-- Curious Ken, Cardiff-by-the-Sea

First, a pop quiz. Multiple-choice, don't panic. (1) Friends don't let friends drive: (a) unless the friends get to ride shotgun; (b) rusted-out El Caminos with crushed beer cans, burger wrappers, three ladders, and a Labrador retriever in the back; (c) drunk. (2) Only you can prevent: (a) foot odor, (b) stupidity, (c) rampant bad taste, (d) forest fires. (3) Take a bite out of: (a) crickets, (b) crayons, (c) cheddar, (d) crime. (4) Rosie the: (a) Rottweiler, (b) Republican, (c) Reprobate, (d) Riveter. (5) Just say: (a) Oy! (b) Crap! (c) This is a holdup! (d) No!

I'm sure you scored 100 percent. Thank the Ad Council. All their creations -- now part of the basic American genetic material. The council's been doing this to our brains since 1942, when members of the advertising industry wanted to help win WWII without actually picking up a gun. Among other campaigns, the War Advertising Council encouraged people to buy bonds and to keep their mouths shut in case the guy next to them on the bus is a spy ("Loose lips sink ships").

They were so successful that President Roosevelt urged them to continue after the war, aiming their messages at broader social issues. Consider Smokey Bear (apparently his middle name is not "the"). The fried-egg "your brain on drugs" spot that aggravated all you herb smokers so much. And the United Negro College Fund's "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" or, if you're Dan Quayle (Dan who?) speaking to members of the UNCF itself, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is." They've also tackled mentoring, predatory lending, global warming, protection of the oceans, and lots of other topics.

In 1945 the War Advertising Council became the Advertising Council, now the Ad Council. Next week, maybe the A Council. Private, nonprofit, supported by individual and corporate donations.

Bush the Elder, Clinton, and the high school girl got zippo for their work. No actor/presenter in an Ad Council ad is paid. No pay? No residuals. In general, the system works like this: The council selects causes from pleas submitted to them -- anybody from the Big Brothers and Sisters and the Peace Corps to the scary Department of Homeland Security. The campaign is assigned to an advertising agency, which donates all the creative and production time and talent. The council handles distribution and media placement; TV, radio, print, Internet, and other media outlets donate the time/space. The only cash that changes hands is for some production expenses, and they're paid by the council.

Sez the council, the sponsoring group can be government, private nonprofit, or a coalition of the two. The commercials must offer "solutions to problems through individual actions" and promote "positive social change." There's our ad for the Ad Council.

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