BOB GARFIELD: The Advertising Council which brought you "Smokey Bear," "McGruff the Crime Dog," and "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk," has spent decades altering Americans' behavior by essentially belaboring the obvious. Since September 11th the Advertising Council has been unleashing the power of advertising on a more existential problem -- America's complacency about its founding principles. Here's a sample of the latest stage of the freedom campaign. [CLIP PLAYS]
CAMBODIAN MAN: If I stayed in Cambodia, I would have been dead by now. [SOUND EFFECT] It was dictated by... Communists. You have to dress a certain way; you have to look a certain way. [SOUND EFFECT] If you know how to read and write --you're dead. [SOUND EFFECT] If you speak your mind -- you're dead. [SOUND EFFECT] Why did I come here? [SOUND EFFECT] Freedom. [SOUND EFFECTS]
BOB GARFIELD: Peggy Conlon is the president and CEO of the Advertising Council. Peggy, welcome to OTM.
PEGGY CONLON: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:In the spot we just heard, we see a 29 year old Cambodian immigrant talking about fleeing from Communist repression in Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime to America where he is now free to live as he wishes, and his testimony is intercut with funky editing, and what you heard is a very sophisticated sound design technique which accompanies these flashing split-second images of American iconography --things like the Statue of Liberty and the Constitution and so forth. What are you going for here?
PEGGY CONLON: Bob, there aren't very many of us who don't have relatives that have emigrated, and it kind of taps into our own personal heritage, and we think about how it is that we wound up living in this country.
BOB GARFIELD: You took a poll, I understand, and got some insight into Americans' understanding of their basic freedoms. What did you learn?
PEGGY CONLON:Eighty-eight percent of Americans reported that Americans take freedom for granted, and when you probe them even more deeply, you find that they don't really understand the kind of tenets that we think about when we think about this country's freedoms. When they talk about freedom, they're really expressing freedom of lifestyle -- freedom to go where they want, do what they want, say what they want.
BOB GARFIELD:This is the second pool of freedom campaign spots. Last year, there was one that portrayed an eerie parallel society that looked like ours but minus our freedoms, and in it a library patron innocently requested to see some title and was hauled off for questioning by federal agents. But what was most eerie was how close to home the scenario was, because under the Patriot Act, that nightmare is actually taking place in our country right now. I gather that chilling irony was unintended by the Ad Council.
PEGGY CONLON: Actually it was. It was rather ironic that the Patriot Act was passed around the time that we were releasing this body of work. The work had been developed earlier in the year, and that really wasn't on the mind of the creative team.
BOB GARFIELD:But there's another lurking irony in this pool of spots as well, because it is a celebration of immigration. All three subjects have come here to our shores to flee repression elsewhere. In the current environment, with the doors slamming on would be immigrants the world over, does this cut in a way once again that's unintended by its authors?
PEGGY CONLON: Well, it's certainly unintended, and the Ad Council does not take a position on policy or politics. The fact that we used these patriotic immigrants is really a creative executional device in order to dramatize the importance of freedoms and to compare the kind of lifestyle that we enjoy here today versus countries where people are not allowed to express their political views or some of the other restrictions that you just mentioned.
BOB GARFIELD:Let me ask you this. The Ad Council historically has been apolitical. Its function is public service and public awareness. I understand that. But if the Ad Council were to determine institutionally that it was celebrating American freedoms -- the ones that we most cherish and should most cherish, while those same freedoms themselves were shrinking by 20 percent, would you think about just cutting the campaign off?
PEGGY CONLON: I think that to have this campaign out there at this time is very, very important, because what we're doing is we are stimulating a dialogue. We need to have a more informed public who can make decisions about the kind of government that they want, and so the ability to educate people about freedom --have them think about what freedom means to them, and therefore have that translate into the democratic process I think is a very important issue. And, no, I don't think that this is a time when we should be tabling a discussion about freedom. It's, I think, more important than ever.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Peggy, thank you very much.
PEGGY CONLON: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Peggy Conlon is the president and CEO of the Ad Council.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, one democratic Congressman goes to Baghdad and comes back with a call to bring back the embeds.