The ADL Plays Times Square


The ginormous billboard jutting out from the side of MTV’s headquarters in Times Square tells a vivid pop culture story every few seconds as spots rotate on what is no doubt some of the world’s choicest ad terrain.

There’s Hulk Hogan body slamming some ’roided-up enemy from central wrestling casting in an ad for Spike TV’s “Impact Wrestling.”

There’s a sleek 2014 Lexus IS (a cool $40,000) gliding smoothly through a mountainous Western backdrop in a spot hawking the elite car company’s Golden Opportunity Sales Event.

And there’s the Father of Our Country himself, the original George W., with a beer-suds ring around his lips and a sly smile breaking over his face, informing all the unwitting tourists with their heads cocked skyward about Comedy Central’s new series, “Drunk History.” It’s “history as it’s never been told,” the billboard proclaims.

There’s another kind of history on display, too. But it’s not mock history. It’s deadly serious history, right across the square from a curvy Beyoncé selling Pepsi. As the seemingly out-of-place ad unfolds, a photo of Daniel Pearl appears, and then one of Martin Luther King Jr., and then Anne Frank, and then Harvey Milk. “If we all stood up to bigotry,” the ad says, “we could change history.” And then the kicker, the trademarked tagline: “Imagine a world without hate.”

It takes a minute (in fact, a tourist passing by quickly might miss the subtlety), but then you realize the ad is an exercise in counter-history, something Philip Roth or Michael Chabon might have dreamed up. An age-progressed MLK is 84 (and championing immigration reform), the slain young Wall Street Journal reporter is a salt-and-peppered 49 (and exposing al-Qaeda), the San Francisco city councilman is white-haired and fighting for LGBT rights and a grandmotherly Anne Frank has won the Nobel Prize for her 12th novel. They’d all still be alive, the ad suggests, if not for hate.

Welcome to the Anti-Defamation League’s new, and towering, ad campaign. The ad, the first of its kind for the defense organization, launched last week and will run intermittently through the remainder of the summer, an ADL official told The Jewish Week.

The ad references the ADL’s 80-second “Imagine a World Without Hate” video (set to John Lennon’s iconic song “Imagine”), which has been seen by one million viewers on YouTube since it hit the Web in March.

A full-page ad in the Times is one thing, but such a heavy message amid the circus atmosphere of the Crossroads of the Universe?

Says ADL’s public relations director, Todd Gutnick: “We appreciate any opportunity to raise awareness about ADL’s struggle to end anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination in America. Times Square is the ‘crossroads of the world.’

“We believe that in Times Square, ADL is reaching a much broader, younger and more diverse demographic, a group that may not necessarily read newspapers, including non-English-speaking citizens and the many tourists who visit New York City from around the world. It is an audience that pays attention, and Times Square grabs it.”

And just how much did the three-story-high billboard set the ADL back? Not a dime. The ad space was donated by Viacom in honor of the venerable defense organization’s 2013 centennial year.