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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...