Many of the best-remembered ad campaigns of the past half-century Only you can prevent forest fires, A mind is a terrible thing to waste, Take a bite out of crime, the Crying Indian Keep America Beautiful commercials were created by the Ad Council, a nonprofit driven by the nations leading advertising agencies.
In How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America, Wendy Melillo charts the course of these ad campaigns and shows how they delivered more than public-service messages.
In 1942, a group of top ad agencies formed the council to promote advertising in general and stave off the possibility of government regulation in part by helping the war effort.
The councils longest-running campaign had its roots in those wartime beginnings.
To remind Americans about the cost of carelessness with fire at a time when wood was needed for the war, the U.S. Forest Service launched regional ads equating forest fires with treason. To broaden the campaigns appeal, a designer for the council hit on the idea in 1944 of a no-nonsense but fatherly bear. Smokey Bear was born.
But even Smokey had his share of controversy, especially out West, where government management of forests was seen as an intrusion.
A theme running throughout How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America is that the Ad Councils campaigns often were designed to reinforce the status quo. For example, the councils hugely successful ads for the United Negro College Fund, while reviving the nations historically black colleges, also bolstered the separate-but-equal approach to higher education.
The Ad Councils campaign for Keep America Beautiful propelled by the powerful image of an aging American Indian, in traditional garb, shedding a single tear while surveying the pollution around him shows the councils strengths and limitations.
The ads, begun in 1971 just as the environmental movement was gaining traction, had an immediate impact. But they also helped steer the debate toward individual responsibility and away from corporate involvement.
Melillos study of the Ad Councils greatest hits and a few misses shows its significant role in shaping popular attitudes on some of the most important issues of our time.