From the back stories of McGruff and Smokey through the conflicts of political polarization, this compact history of the Ad Council puts the relationship between government and the advertising industry in fresh perspective.
Solid reporting and analysis from Melillo, a former Pulitzer nominee for the Washington Post, distinguish this first history of the Ad Council to date. It also suggests that more of a feature approach rather than a drier tone more common in academic or public policy writing might better serve this very interesting story, one that shows how the industry has bolstered its own image through what it has termed “advertising’s gift to America” and how the council’s attempt to remain above the political fray has profound political implications. “Using simple messages to prompt individual action is the key to the Ad Council’s public service model,” writes Melillo, yet critics charge that placing such an emphasis on individual initiative tends to reduce environmental concerns to cleaning up litter rather than putting pressure on corporations that produce so much more packaging than is necessary and otherwise pollute far more than individual litterbugs. Similarly, Smokey’s message that “only you can prevent forest fires” oversimplifies the often complex relationships of various constituencies for forest use and the role of fire in conservation. “The organization has a tremendous responsibility to disparate constituencies: the client, the public, the ad industry, and the media companies that run public service ads free of charge,” writes the author. “Balancing the needs and interests of these groups in a way that is equitable to all involved is not always possible. That means that some campaign goals, despite good intentions, may not always serve the public’s best interests.”
Maintaining a balance generally free of polemics, Melillo shows that the campaigns have done a lot of good but have also generated more controversy than readers might have suspected.