Sunday, July 6, 2008

Going Old School to Find the Best Green TV Ad Ever...


When I was a little kid growing up in the suburbs east of San Francisco, Keep America Beautiful partnered with the Ad Council to create a TV ad that had a powerful effect on me — and made a huge contribution to the early green movement in this country.

The public service spot aired for the first time on Earth Day, 1971, and featured a stoic actor named Chief Iron Eyes Cody. It dramatized how litter and other forms of pollution were hurting the environment, and how every individual has the responsibility to help protect it.

The ad ended with the famous tagline: "People Start Pollution. People can stop it." Cody, who was actually a Sicilian American, became synonymous with environmental concern and achieved lasting fame as, "The Crying Native American."

The PSA won two Clio awards and was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age Magazine. In 1982, Cody, whose film repertoire included three Westerns with President Ronald Reagan, was honored with a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.

During the height of the campaign, Keep America Beautiful reported receiving more than 2,000 letters a month from people wanting to join their local team. By the end of the campaign, local teams had helped to reduce litter by as much as 88% in 300 communities, 38 states, and several countries. The success of this anti-litter campaign led to hundreds of other environmental messages through the years, from many different sources.

During a period when most Americans were clueless about our destructive consumption patterns, the Keep America Beautiful PSA campaign was probably the greatest ever in terms of creating awareness and changing negative attitudes and behaviors that lead to pollution.

When you watch the ad today, it still resonates.