In Praise of PSAs

CANNES Two Leo Burnett executives referenced the words of the agency’s namesake to relay the power of public-service advertising at a session today at the International Ad Festival entitled “Creativity for the Greater Good: A Public Service Campaign Showcase.” Leo Burnett, founder of the Chicago-based shop, once said, “Words that kindle a fire in our minds … have rallied people to action.”

Linda Wolf, worldwide chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, and Miguel Angel Furones, chief creative officer, showed various examples of how the industry has tackled societal problems with passion, conviction and ingenuity.

“When it comes to seeing the problem, our industry has opened its eyes,” said Furones.

For instance, the memorable “This is your brain on drugs” spot for a Partnership for a Drug-Free America generated a dialogue that impacted society, they said. And an Amnesty International spot showing a Nigerian soccer player being gunned down transformed the cause into a brand.

The presenters also ran footage of agency executives like Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide creative director Bob Isherwood and Publicis worldwide creative director David Droga discussing the ad industry’s role in social responsibility.

Working on these efforts is important to creative departments because “it exposes them to a broader, wider world. They’re not just selling [consumer goods]. It plays to a broader consciousness that any agency must have. It acts as an anchor to agencies,” Bartle Bogle Hegarty chairman and creative director John Hegarty said in a video clip.

While working on PSAs is effective in “energizing the creative department and raising the [agency’s] profile in the market,” the real payoff, said Wolf, is “in getting results.”

A social responsibility effort, for instance, for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children helped double calls to the organization.

One execution in the campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi in London showed a dad abusing a cartoon character, who keeps bouncing back. In the end, the animation is transformed into a real child. The tag: “Real children don’t bounce back.”

And a gripping spot from Grey in Melbourne, Australia, that portrayed a boy’s last breath after being hit by a speeding car helped cut traffic deaths in half.

The Leo Burnett executives also showed an AIDS awareness spot from its headquarters. The commercial equated the number of people dying from the disease to the number of children under 5 in America by depicting a world run by kids.