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ACLU gets ad-savvy – Campaign aims to connect

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The American Civil Liberties Union has turned to Madison Avenue to help it tell its story and drive people to its Web site, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit group late last year hired DeVita/Verdi in New York, its first consumer ad agency, and as a $1 million ad budget, big for the ACLU but tiny by Madison Avenue standards, the Times says.

In the Times this Sunday and in The New Yorker the next day, the ACLU begins running a paid ad that features a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. on the left and one of Charles Manson on the right.

“The man on the left is 75 times more likely to be sopped by the police while driving than the man on the right,” says the headline.

The ad says the police throughout the U.S. regularly stop drivers based on their race rather than their driving.

“We have taken to advertising for the same reason people who market products have taken to advertising in a dramatic and splashy and visible way,” Ira Glasser, the ACLU’s executive director, told the Times.

“We want to get the message into people’s consciousness without forcing them to have to read a law review article.”

Glasser said he hopes the ads will attract readers to the ACLU’s Web site, which features information on a host of issues. The site’s store sells books as well as ACLU T-shirts, caps and mugs.

Victor Kamber, president of the Kamber Group in Washington, which creates advocacy advertising for labors unions and other causes, told the Times the ACLU’s campaign needs to be controversial to provoke its “liberal, progressive and somewhat shrinking” audience to act.

“I don’t think they are advertising to get general public recognition,” he said. “If they wanted that, they’d run a neutral ad about how they support good causes. Tweir goal is to get people angry and  excited, and I think they achieved it.”

Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, told the Times that ads are not designed to be controversial – but rather to be noticed.

“A public service ad has to move you emotionally and intellectually,” he said. “If you don’t get a chill, it’s a total waste of money.”

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