Got Liberty? Selling The First Amendment

By: Mark Fitzgerald

A unique campaign that launches this summer to promote the First Amendment —  and, not so coincidentally, its guarantee of a free press — proceeds from this insight: Americans love their First Amendment rights, but they’re not all that crazy about the First Amendment itself.

Only 4% of Americans can name all the “five freedoms” guaranteed in the Amendment, and the other 96% don’t appear embarrassed by their ignorance. When Ken Paulson watched focus groups in Boston and Dallas talking about the First Amendment he noticed a universal reaction — boredom. But they got excited talking about their personal freedom to express themselves, says Paulson, the former USA Today editor who is now president and CEO of the Freedom Forum and its Newseum.

“Young people especially love to express themselves, and it’s actually the five freedoms of the First Amendment that makes that possible,” he says. “It’s the one amendment to the Constitution that every American uses every day.”

To emphasize that point, the Freedom Forum and other members in the Liberty Tree Initiative — a broad coalition that includes not just journalists, but educators and clergy, librarians and artists — on July 1 are launching the “1 For All” ad campaign that emphasizes those everyday freedoms. The ads, featuring energetic young people,  emphasize Americans are “Free to Dance.” Or tweet. Or pray. “Thanks to the First Amendment, you can be whatever or whoever you want to be,” the text reads.

There’s even an ad that talks about being “Free to Report,” but with no emphasis on journalism or the press. “We concluded the way to conduct this campaign was with a distinctly different strategy than any done before,” Paulson says. “We realized if we attempted to do a campaign around freedom of the press and the value of journalism, it was going to be a long uphill battle.”

The ads were created by Weber Shandwick, the agency famous for its “Got Milk?” campaign. When Liberty Tree approached the agency, Paulson says, it asked this question: Are you good enough to save the First Amendment?

Now the question has been turned around on newspapers. The “Got Milk” campaign has cost more than $100 million and counting. With no budget, Liberty Tree is looking for free space. “We’re not asking for prime space, just remnant ads,” says Paulson.  And the campaign is intended to be as long-lasting and hopefully as effective as the iconic Smokey the Bear forest fire prevention public service ads.

Print and Web ads as well as other resources for “1 For All” are available here.

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Published: June 11, 2010

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