Ad Council Rebrands to Position Itself as a More Accessible Partner on Social Change

The organization will start enlisting more brands to fund PSAs

The Ad Council is adding new members to its board of directors following a rebrand last month. Ad Council

As an increasing number of brands take stances on critical social issues—and as more consumers now expect them to—the Ad Council is initiating a major overhaul of its identity and strategy to solidify its positioning at the forefront of those conversations.

Today, the nonprofit for public-service advertising founded in 1942 announced the most significant rebrand in its 75-year history, complete with a new, more youthful and relatable logo, a digital content-driven focus that will allow it to enter more channels and therefore more conversations and a commitment to work closer with brands on PSAs. The Ad Council worked in partnership with WPP’s newly minted Superunion—which combined five of the holding company’s consultancies and design shops: Brand Union, The Partners, Lambie-Nairn, Addison Group and VBAT—on the rebrand.

“The partners that have worked with us for decades recognize the Ad Council as a respected and meaningful brand,” Lisa Sherman, Ad Council president and CEO, told Adweek, “but as this industry has grown and diversified, there are so many new players who may not know or entirely understand us.”

Those new players could be ad-tech companies, digital publishers and others operating within the industry but are not necessarily traditional, legacy advertising entities. Sherman noted that the Ad Council has been working to identify and reach these “new and emerging companies,” many situated near Silicon Valley, in various ways, including bringing its fundraiser to the West Coast for the first time two years ago.

As part of the rebrand, the Ad Council will lean more on corporate coalitions to fund individual campaigns instead of solely on other nonprofits and government agencies, as it has in the past. It has already begun testing this approach with campaigns like “She Can STEM,” funded by GE, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Verizon, and “Love Has No Labels,” which was funded by Bank of America, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Google, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, P&G, State Farm, Unilever and Wells Fargo. The original Emmy-winning 2015 “Love Has No Labels” skeletons campaign was the first of its kind to utilize a corporate-driven fundraising model.

“As we launched some of these campaigns and as other brands see them, we’ve gotten a lot of interest in how they might join the coalition,” Sherman said. “So our original six partners on ‘Love Has No Labels’ is now nine or 10 partners.”

These corporate coalitions will also provide the Ad Council with access to more resources and talent—plus visibility.

Sherman noted that while popular campaigns like “Love Has No Labels” or the hallmark “Smokey Bear” forest-fire prevention PSA, which is the longest-running public-service campaign in the U.S., are extremely popular, viewers don’t always realize the Ad Council is behind them.

Historically, the Ad Council has been behind political campaigns such as efforts to support American troops during World War II and promoting the purchase of war bonds as well as Nancy Reagan’s 1980s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.

The group still works closely with the government and nonprofits on PSAs. In June, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Truth Initiative enlisted the Ad Council to help create a series of ads to fight the country’s opioid epidemic.

Still, brands like Nike and P&G are now provoking cultural debates on social issues—just Google Nike and Colin Kaepernick or P&G’s “The Talk” for examples—so it was only a matter of time before the Ad Council adjusted to this cultural shift.

In an effort to modernize its identity and make it appear more accessible to brands, the Ad Council is nixing its old logo in favor of a fresher, younger take (designed by Superunion). The new logo incorporates a lowercase “a” in Ad, making it seem a bit more approachable, and brings the word “council” into the full square, rather than having it sit on the outside, signifying unity.

Also, instead of the logo being in stark black and white, the white bubble letters sit behind a “softer” gray box, Sherman said.

“This incredible nonprofit deserved a clearly articulated positioning to reflect its true societal impact, celebrating the positive influence that advertising can achieve,” Sabah Ashraf, CEO of Superunion North America, said in a statement.

“We had a challenge on our hands because the Ad Council for 75 years has been a trusted mark and symbolizes an incredible legacy of impact,” Sherman said. “What we wanted to do was really preserve that legacy and the seriousness of the work we do and marry that with a change that suggests we are more open and accessible.”

Part of becoming more accessible, too, will involve the Ad Council evolving its tech capabilities and creating more digital content, which Sherman said will “drive greater impact.” The organization recently partnered with Amazon Alexa on voice integrations for its “The Truth About Opioids” campaign and “Save the Food,” which brought awareness to the 40 percent of food purchased in the U.S. that goes uneaten.

“The focus of public service advertising is really to change behaviors and improve lives of individuals and families; that has not changed,” Sherman said. “The way we go to market, the platforms where we distribute our work, the kinds of content that’s being created—those are the things that have changed. … The ways we work are different but the fundamental work itself is the same.”

On average, the Ad Council develops content for 40 causes a year.

@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.