Most Americans consider voting important. But only 56% of voters turned out for the 2016 presidential election. That rate places the U.S. near the bottom for civic participation among developed countries.
You might think that someone should do a PSA about that—especially with the 2020 election looming. But the Ad Council, the organization behind some of the most famous PSAs ever made, is now pushing a different first step: basic research and strategy development. After all, it might be helpful to know what kind of get-out-the-vote messages typically register with voters, how that splits among different generations, and which kinds of engagement for each will feel authentic.
It’s part of the Ad Council’s just-launched nonprofit consultancy Ad Council Edge, designed to help companies, nonprofits, and foundations (or coalitions of all three) make better and broader strategy. The group will operate “upstream,” as an adviser for organizations looking to refine their social messages or just figure out what part of a broader cause they’re most equipped to tackle effectively and in what ways they can do that.
“We’re in that sort of space where the brand or organization is thinking in the near future they want to get to a campaign, but they’re not ready yet because they have some work to be done,” says Ad Council Edge’s managing director Derrick Feldmann, who points out that after years of developing campaigns across a wide variety of issues, the group has become a topic expert across many fields and understands where to find the right kind of experts and existing trend data to encourage public action.
Groups who partner with Ad Council Edge won’t automatically be in line for an Ad Council campaign like Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk, the creation of Smokey Bear, and Love Has No Labels. In many cases, their topics may not be best served by the slogan treatment. The Ad Council’s selection process for that—which typically includes pinpointing a pressing issue, and then partnering with different advocates, pro bono creative agencies, and companies willing to sponsor the ad development and donate airtime—will remain independent.
Ad Council Edge is meant to be a “more collaborative than competitive” with other creative agencies, even those who’ve created their own social good divisions like TBWA Media Arts Lab For Good. It’s more about early-stage advising and skills training, not specific creative development or execution.
Much of its work to date is confidential, but one client so far is nonprofit Democracy Works, the organization behind TurboVote, a seamless voter registration app. The organization is also researching more about how to get plant-based meat alternatives into school lunches and how to encourage employers to hire more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for other clients.
“We do get a lot of brands and causes that call us and say, we may not want to do an Ad Council campaign but we really want to tap your expertise because you’ve been working on [some specific topic] for so long and many different ways,” Feldmann says. “So why not have you at our table just like we have with our agencies as well?”