For the first time since the Advertising Council was founded in 1942, the organization – which direct and coordinates public service campaigns on behalf of Madison Avenue and the media industry – is introducing ads meant to tackle a social issue of concern to gays and lesbians.
The campaign, which is scheduled to be announced by the council in Washington on Wednesday, will seek to discourage bullying and harassment of teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The campaign, created pro bono by the New York office of Arnold Worldwide, urges an end to using derogatory language, particularly labeling anything deemed negative or unpleasant as “so gay.” That is underlined by the theme of the campaign: “When you say, ‘That’s so gay,’ do you realize what you say? Knock it off.”
There will be television and radio commercials, print and outdoor ads and a special Web site devoted to the campaign (thinkb4youspeak.com). Some spots feature celebrities, the young actress Hilary Duff and the comedian Wanda Sykes, delivering the message.
The campaign is on behalf of a nonprofit organization in New York called the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or Glsen (pronounced glisten), which promotes tolerance among students. Glsen is spending about $2 million to develop and produce the campaign.
The introduction of the campaign will be accompanied by Glsen’s release of the 2007 edition of an annual report, the National School Climate Survey. The survey will report that 9 in 10 teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender said they were verbally harassed during the last school year. Almost half said they were also physically harassed because of their sexual orientation.
The campaign is “something I dreamed about for 10 years,” said Kevin Jennings, the founder and executive director at Glsen, and has been in active development for two years.
“If you follow hateful language, you eventually get hurtful behavior,” he added. “The chain of events begins with kids learning it’s O.K. to disrespect people.”
The campaign is “a very bold step” on the part of the council, Mr. Jennings said, in that “this will be, by a million miles, the largest public education campaign on L.G.B.T. issues.”
“I think they know they’re going to take some flak,” he added, referring to the leadership of the council.
Peggy Conlon, the president and chief executive of the council, said she did not believe, however, that there would be negative reaction.
“Before Glsen made the investment, we agreed we would poll the media community,” Ms. Conlon said, to determine how receptive outlets like newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and Web sites would be to run such ads.
In conversations with public service directors — the staff members at media outlets who help determine which pro bono campaigns run — “a very small percentage said they would not run the work,” she said, “not because it was ‘radioactive,’ but because they thought it was not appropriate for their target audience,” which may be older than those to whom the campaign is addressed.
As for this being the first campaign under the aegis of the council to tackle discrimination against gays and lesbians, Ms. Conlon said, “we always had dialogue with that community,” which had been “focused on a different issue,” AIDS prevention.
“We’re always looking for important messages on discrimination,” she said. “We thought this would be a fabulous campaign to take on because it’s surprising how pervasive this language is.”
The council has presented antidiscrimination campaigns like “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” for the United Negro College Fund, and ads promoting gender equality (“Expect the best from a girl and that’s what you’ll get”).
In the commercial featuring Ms. Sykes, three teenage boys at a pizzeria are making fun of a silly statue of a pizza chef. One says, “That’s so gay, really gay,” to which Ms. Sykes replies, “Please don’t say that,” and then asks how he would like it if she were to say something she disliked was “so ‘16-year-old boy with a cheesy mustache.’ ”
Some print ads are taking a similar tack. “That’s so ‘Jock who can complete a pass but not a sentence,’ ” one headline reads. Another says, “That’s so ‘Gamer guy who has more video games than friends.’ ” The ads end this way: “Think that’s mean? How do you think ‘That’s so gay’ sounds? Hurtful. So, knock it off.”
It is a tricky task to create a campaign that speaks to young people in a tone they do not deem patronizing or condescending. To accomplish that, the campaign was researched and tested with the intended audience.
“Kids that age are tough and media savvy; they see through things quickly,” said John Staffen, chief creative officer at Arnold N.Y.C., part of the Arnold Worldwide unit of Havas.
As a result, “you can’t be too preachy,” he added, “and you can’t sell too hard.”
So the goal was “to show the situation in a new light,” Mr. Staffen said, “to point out this language can be hurtful and let the kids make their own decisions.”
“Ultimately, we believe they will make the right decision,” he added.
Two students who were shown the ads to elicit their reactions praised the approach.
“These ads do a great job of making you stop and think,” said David Aponte, 16, a junior at Battlefield High School in Haymarket, Va., who described himself as a “straight ally” of Glsen and other organizations doing similar work. “I think people could connect to them,” he added.
Lynnette Schweimler, 17, a senior at Thunderridge High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., said she hoped the campaign would “open people’s eyes a little bit.”
Ms. Schweimler said that when she was attacked last year by assailants who singled her out for being a lesbian, “they used a lot of derogatory language.”
The repeating of such language “builds up intolerance,” she said, because “it’s used so often, people don’t understand the meaning of it.”
A version of this article appeared in print on October 8, 2008, on page B4 of the New York edition