It has not been the best decade to be an advertising professional. Increasingly, clients are taking the practice in-house and agencies struggle to carve out their role in an ever-changing landscape. One thing, however, has not changed: the ability for compelling messages to change human behavior. And, the go-to source when the chips are down remains the firepower that exists in the creative minds of agency and freelance creatives. So, it is not surprising that during this current Covid19 challenge, U.S. and Global Governmental institutions are turning to our people for help. Beating the Virus with Education As of this writing, the spread of Coronavirus has not reached its peak in America. To stem the tide, the White House, U.S. Department of Human Services and the CDC have tapped the Ad Council, media organizations and social platforms to get the message out. As Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council points out, the goal is to “empower millions of Americans to stay safe, informed and connected.”
The U.S. is not the only governmental institution turning to our industry for help. The United Nations recently issued its “Global Call to Creatives” to translate the critical public health messages into different languages, cultures and platforms to reach everyone, everywhere about the steps necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19. Our hope is that our industry’s best and brightest will answer the clarion call to put this pandemic behind us. This is Just the First Step Coming out of this crisis, America and countries around the globe will need to jump start their economies. This starts with consumer consumption and that consumption has historically been fueled by demand-generating advertising. Historically in the U.S., it is well documented that advertising helped drive the cycle of increased consumption and production, even in the darkest of times in our nation’s history. During the Great Depression, which many people, including economist John Maynard Keynes, believed was caused by underconsumption, advertising was used to spur purchasing. Private sector activity, along with New Deal programs, played important roles in preserving democracy and delivering on President Roosevelt’s promise of “Freedom from Want”. The next challenge for advertising was to get Americans spending again following World War II in an effort to prove capitalism and democracy’s superiority during the early days of the Cold War. “From the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, businesspeople, politicians, the mass media, and many leading intellectuals trumpeted the benefits of the “American way of life”. They celebrated democratic capitalism, which, in contrast to Soviet totalitarianism, had produced ever-growing prosperity and in turn provided the foundation for an egalitarian and harmonious society.” Early in the 21st century, advertising was once again called on to catalyze consumption following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01. As Daniel Horowitz summarizes, “An external threat of unimaginable dimensions, the possibility of a recession, massive corporate scandals and bankruptcies, and a declining stock market prompted Americans to perceive consumption as a critical factor in the nation’s health, and even its survival. We have to spend our way out of this danger, millions of Americans believed, so that the enemies who had attacked us would not have won. The consumer was it the saddle. Unlike in the situation the nation faced during World War II or the energy crisis, this time there seemed no turning back from a full embrace of affluence and a commercialized consumer culture.”
In more recent memory, the economic downturn of 2008 needed advertising to help America consume its way out of the malaise following the banking and market crash. At the time, CNBC aired a primetime, limited interruption panel discussion “Meeting of the Minds: The Future of Capitalism.” Seated among such captains of industry as the late Jack Welch (former CEO of GE), Vikram Pandit (Current CEO of Citi) and Marc Morial (CEO of the National Urban League) was Shelly Lazarus, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. Not only did her presence on the show suggest advertising still has an impact on capitalism in this country, but it suggests it may help retool our economic system for the future. Putting the Covid19 pandemic behind us is job #1 and I am glad our industry is doing its part. Quickly pivoting to economic recovery, however, will be critical and the weight of evidence suggests that over the past century, advertising has emerged to become one of the foremost economic engines of American prosperity.