MIKE PESCA: We're back with On the Media. I'm Mike Pesca.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Coming this week to a TV near you, commercials for freedom. [CLIP FROM COMMERCIAL PLAYS]
MAN 1: But personally I am just so sick and tired of these taxes!
MAN 2: [SOTTO VOCE] Why do you always do this?
MAN 1: You know every time you get a paycheck now most of it goes straight to the government.
MAN 2: [SOTTO VOCE] Hey, keep it down -- you want somebody to hear you?
MAN 1: I'm just saying -- I'm the one who's making the money and I have no say-so--
MAN 2: [SOTTO VOCE] I know what you're saying --just calm down! Do you want 'em to ruin your life? They can do that you know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The tag line reads: What if America wasn't America? Freedom. Appreciate it, cherish it, protect it. The freedom ads come to us from the Ad Council which over the past 60 years has created such advertising icons as Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog and even Rosie the Riveter for public awareness campaigns. Phil Dusenberry [sp?] has volunteered to direct the Freedom Campaign. He is a 40 year veteran of the ad industry who can list among his credits the Michael Jackson Choice of a New Generation ads for Pepsi and the Morning in America campaign spots for President Ronald Reagan. He is on the line from Clyde Park [sp?], Montana. Welcome to the show.
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Good morning.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the Ad Council was initially created to help out the advertising industry after the Depression, but then after the attack on Pearl Harbor it changed into the War Advertising Council and it was hugely successful in selling war bonds. What exactly are your ads intended to sell?
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Well right after 9/11 there was this upsurge of patriotism in America and perhaps stronger than we've seen in quite some years, but over time that sense has waned a little bit because other things come into play and people let this blessing we have, which is called freedom, flip to the back of their mind. And the idea of this campaign is to, is to really re-instill a sense of what American freedom is all about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:One of the defining features of the Ad Council's previous campaigns was that the message was very clear -- they taught us how to prevent forest fires and why we shouldn't litter and to cross at the corner. Maybe it's because the freedom ads are addressing an idea rather than an action, but some of them seem rather abstract!
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Yeah. You're absolutely right. Most advertising is designed to sell a product, a service, a brand. In this particular case, this advertising's - is asking people to feel something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Could you talk us through the one that's called "Choice?"
PHIL DUSENBERRY:Well what we're seeing in this particular case is, is a camera going down a supermarket aisle past hundreds and hundreds of those myriad products that we look at every day-- [SOUND FROM CHOICE COMMERCIAL PLAYS UNDER] and it talks about competition just in some title form. And then it lets us know that freedom brings choice -- the freedom for you to choose whatever product you wish.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I did think that at least in that one particular ad equating freedom with wide consumer choice seemed to be an odd choice.
PHIL DUSENBERRY:Well the fact is, if you walk down a supermarket aisle and you look at this array of products, you, you're realizing that we have this incredible choice! And you know what? Many countries don't have that choice, and that's one of the things that this campaign is hoping to communicate -- that freedom is something that isn't necessarily unique to any other country in the way that it is unique to us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Can a 30 second spot explain to Americans what shouldn't need explaining? Shouldn't we already know what our fundamental values are?
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Well we should, but you know -- we--unfortunately take for granted so many of the things that we're blessed with in this country. Freedom is one of them. We accept it. But until something like 9/11 happens we don't think much about it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In one of the ads we see a boy in a library asking for a book. [CLIP FROM COMMERCIAL PLAYS]
BOY: Excuse me. I can't seem to find these anywhere.
FEMALE LIBRARIAN: Huh! [TYPING ON COMPUTER KEYPAD] These books are no longer available.
BOY: I didn't know.
FEMALE LIBRARIAN: May I have your name please?
BOY: Why?! [OMINOUS MUSIC]
MAN: Excuse me -- if you'll just come this way please--
BOY: What did I do?!
MAN: We just have a couple of questions-- [A STRUGGLE ENSUES] Easy! Easy!--
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now Phil it was here that a certain queasiness that I felt watching this campaign seemed to crystalize and, and this is why: because I remember an interview we did a few months ago with the head of government relations for the American Library Association and she was concerned because under the Patriot Act passed right after September 11th the FBI was empowered to seize book sales and library checkout records and the book sellers and the librarians were barred from saying anything about it -- they were placed under a sort of perpetual gag order. So when I saw the ads, it struck me that it's possible that the American people are more likely to see their freedoms undermined by the actions of their own government than by some sort of Islamic fundamentalist revolution in this country!
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Well, look -- first of all our commercial and, and what you just described are purely a coincidence, and we're using just simply a drama to say you know -- what if America wasn't America -- this is what it might be like folks!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:A lot of the discussion after 9/11 and after passage of the Patriot Act is what if America isn't quite what it is right now, because it's under threat -- because people can have their library records rifled through and never know about it.
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Well, I don't know. I mean the advertising you know can only go so far and only be used in such a way as to remind people of - make them appreciate what we have. It can't really cross any line into, you know, anything that's more concrete.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Phil Dusenberry, thank you very much.
PHIL DUSENBERRY: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Phil Dusenberry is the director of the Ad Council's new Freedom Campaign, coming this week to a TV near you.