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The Ad Council: James W. Young Spearheads Public Service Advertising

In November 1941, James Webb Young gave a speech to the 4A’s, setting a new mission of advertising solely for the benefit of the American public. The War Ad Council was formed the following February, on the heels of America’s entry into World War II. It would be the industry’s way to contribute to the war effort and public interest using some of the sharpest creative minds on Madison Avenue.

The first campaign was a series of ads marketing war bonds, and it was so successful that President Roosevelt gave his blessing to continue the program after the war was over. Thus The War Ad Council became just The Ad Council—taking non-profit organizations as clients and making campaigns out of worthy causes, free of charge. If you’ve been alive the last 75 years, chances are you have one of its hundreds of memorable public service campaigns imbedded in your permanent memory: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, “Only you can prevent forest fires” and “Take a bite out of crime” are just a few.

Smokey Bear has become so popular since he was introduced in 1944 that a reported 95 percent of Americans can finish the slogan, “Remember: Only You Can Prevent …” just from memory. That’s pretty iconic. In 2010, the Ad Council even won an Emmy from the Academy of Arts and Sciences for its work.