Keeping America beautiful (and honest)

Updated: Oct 28, 2018


By Lauren Phipps

Do you remember the "Crying Indian" TV commercial from the 1970s? The iconic ad depicts a Native American man canoeing down a polluted river, eyeing the littered shore and spewing nearby smokestacks, and shedding a single, solitary tear over the environmental degradation.

"Some people have a natural abiding respect for the beauty that was once this country, and some people don't," said the voice-over narration. "People start pollution. People can stop it."

By tugging at the heartstrings of American consumers, the commercial effectively stoked individual commitment to environmental protection. According to the Ad Council, litter was reported to have decreased by 88 percent in 38 states following the ad. At face value, it was a massive success.

The campaign was a product of Keep America Beautiful (KAB), a nonprofit founded by Coca-Cola, Phillip-Morris, Anheuser-Busch and other consumer products companies in the 1950s to educate and activate the public around environmental stewardship, particularly the perils of litter. More than 40 years later, KAB’s campaign could be seen as a harbinger of today’s brand activism.

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