President Clinton and the Propaganda Industry

Volume 2, Issue 14

During WWII the U.S. military and paramilitary evolved the attitude scales that have become the persuasion metrics of the advertising industry. What was to become the CIA was then called the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and at the end of the war some of its prominent members migrated into the advertising industry. These are just two of the historical ties between propaganda, psychological warfare, and advertising.

The word “propaganda” historically had an exclusively negative connotation until its use by America and its allies in WWII helped win the war.

Advertising today is moving away from the subtle coercion model and toward a relationship model built on transparency and trust with people, which is a good thing. It isn’t happening solely because Mad Men and Women are becoming more saintly — although we see some of that — the Internet has forced the hand of the industry.

Someday people will no longer distrust all advertising as a result of more advertisers using transparent and socially constructive approaches. When that day comes, there will no longer be any resistance to advertisers saving money by only sending ads to people for whom their product or service is relevant. Today, this approach is regarded by some as an evil thing. Such distrust will go away after enough years of transparency between advertisers and people.

Noting and appreciating the abilities of the advertising creative community to communicate powerfully, last month in Cannes former President Bill Clinton called on the advertising industry — gathered in the Palais des Congres on the beautiful shoreline La Croisette Boulevard as part of the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity — to use its powers to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems, by communicating effectively the desirability of collaboration, tolerance, and clean energy.

Years ago I approached two agencies proposing essentially the same idea. Larry Deckinger at Grey agreed with the proposal but believed it impossible to convince clients. Don Johnston then running JWT took the same view.

But that was then and this is now. If the industry doesn’t jump on this, Bill Clinton’s idea could still be carried out through the Ad Council, the nonprofit that takes donated air time and donated print space, mixes it with donated creative, to publish public service content that has had powerful impact for the Greater Good. Creatives who feel the tug to give back and make a difference could offer their services to the Ad Council, who would make it happen.

But why not also consider this as part of what any advertiser might do on their own? Cause Marketing exists and is growing — President Clinton’s idea could fit squarely into that channel. Even within more general advertising, leaders such as Coca-Cola have for decades planned their advertising to reflect and positively address the tensions of the times in ways honest yet tasteful and subtle.

Why would an advertiser do this? Not only for its own sake, to make the world safer and more prosperous, and for the obvious economic cascade effects, but also because people will be grateful to see or hear inclusively positive messaging done at the highly affective level of execution the advertising industry can often achieve — and Gratitude Effect has seven times the persuasion effect of image sell (i.e. typical advertising).

Such a concerted effort on the part of the advertising industry can improve its own sales effect and help pull the world back up by its bootstraps economically and attitudinally. Why not seize this golden opportunity? There is no downside. It is inherently bipartisan*.

Best to all,

Bill

*Although Bill Clinton could not resist knocking Republicans for “making the denial of climate change a campaign tactic”, as Kunur Patel put it in Advertising Age. However, our recommendation and anticipation is that all advertisers will only want to implement this idea — positive thoughts riding on the carrier wave of advertising — on a strictly nonpartisan basis.

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