Madison Avenue exists to persuade. (Check out how stylish this car looks! Doesn’t everyone seem to be having a great time while drinking this beer?) In a perilous political climate, however, some advertising agencies have decided to use their marketing acumen in service of advancing cultural and political causes, rather than selling products.

It is not unusual for agencies to work with nonprofit groups or create public service announcements, pro bono, but this new activism entails a deeper level of involvement.

For instance, an ad agency in Austin, Tex., recently teamed up with a community health organization, the American Civil Liberties Union and the director Richard Linklater to produce an online video, released last month, opposing a state bill that would require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates in public schools and government-funded buildings. The bill is reminiscent of a law passed last year in North Carolina that drew heavy criticism from prominent business leaders and calls by sports leagues and entertainers to temporarily boycott the state.

The campaign included a 60-second video directed by Mr. Linklater — the tagline: “I pee with L.G.B.T.” — and 15-second versions, which are being disseminated through targeted Facebook advertising.

Taking a Seat, Making a Stand.
Video by aclutx

“Our goal with this, ultimately, is to get people to reach out to their legislators,” said Duff Stewart, the chief executive of the agency, GSD&M, which is spearheading the campaign. “We believe it’s an important issue for Texas.”

Pointing to North Carolina as an example, he said: “It’s also an economic-impact issue. It’s going to have a detrimental effect to the economy in the state of Texas, and the ability to recruit and maintain talent.”

For the agency, though, the impetus to get involved goes beyond that. “From a cultural perspective, being open and kind and accepting of our fellow human beings is, I think, what we’re about,” Mr. Stewart said.

Other advertising professionals who have taken on more issue- or cause-related projects also see the work as a kind of affirmation of their principles and beliefs in the Trump era.

“You sort of have this feeling of being helpless when something goes off the tracks in the country, so it’s nice to be able to do something,” said Neil Kraft, president and creative director of KraftWorks, which last year developed a platform to support female entrepreneurs in collaboration with Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.

KraftWorks created the concept for, which helps impoverished women finance business ventures, and recruited corporate partners, like Sephora and Lilly Pulitzer, willing to donate a portion of sales made through the site. “It was a deeper involvement, and it was more personal,” Mr. Kraft said.

“Through communication, you can change the way people think, the way people feel,” said Kirsten Flanik, president of BBDO New York. Her agency developed a campaign aimed at raising the visibility of women by highlighting the dearth of monuments, buildings and streets named for women — and pushing for companies, cities and other entities to change that.

The campaign, “Put Her on the Map,” came out of the agency’s sponsorship of the Makers Conference, an annual event that highlights “trailblazing” women in the professional world. The agency debuted the campaign there last month. Its cornerstone is a short video of girls listing things that have been named for women: They mention superficial items like Shirley Temples and Bloody Marys, and the short shorts known as Daisy Dukes.

“We’re storytellers, so if we’re going to create a movement, we’re going to do it through stories,” Ms. Flanik said.

These kinds of forays into social issues do carry some risk.

“I don’t know how many people would make their decision about an ad firm based on this one way or another, but some people who are more involved in politics might be upset,” said William Benoit, professor of communication studies at Ohio University. In today’s social-media-driven culture, anything that carries even a whiff of political opinion carries the potential for opposition, he said, pointing to the ire that Nordstrom department stores faced over curtailing sales of Ivanka Trump clothing and accessories.

The flip side, though, could be an increase in business from clients whose viewpoint aligns with that of the agency.

“I think there are some risks in the sense of potentially alienating a client or a potential client if the agency has decided to put a stake in the ground,” said Jeremy Rosenberg, a managing director at the public relations firm Allison & Partners. He added that an ancillary risk could be alienating employees opposed to a particular cause. “I think agency principals would have a good pulse on their employee base, but I think that is a potential concern as well.”

Agencies that have allocated resources to social projects say, however, that their employees are eager to participate.

Mr. Kraft said his millennial employees were especially enthusiastic. “They’re in a lot of ways more idealistic than I am and really like this and working on stuff like this,” he said. “I think it helps everyone feel good about selling other stuff all the time.”

Ultimately, though, advertising executives say, the motivation is more about feeling compelled to use their industry’s skills to draw attention to issues that matter in a divided culture.

“If we don’t speak up, somebody else will,” Mr. Stewart said. “This last election is evidence that we cannot be complacent. We have to talk about and stand up for our beliefs. If you’re not speaking up, you’re not going to be heard.”