Crying Indian – Why Do We Remember?

July 26, 2009 at 1:29 pm (advertising, Branding, commercials, Education, marketing, TV advertising) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The other day myself and some other instructors were preparing for a presentation to kids covering First Aid for the Environment. Jokingly I said, “Why don’t we show the crying Indian ad.” That got me thinking; what makes this ad memorable?

The ad I was referring to was actually a Public Service Announcement  (PSA) that first aired more than 10 years before I was born; yet I remember it to this day. That is a testament to how long the ad ran, and how memorable it was. With its “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” tagline, the PSA arguably kicked off the green movement (though Keep America Beautiful had been running PSAs since the early ‘60s).

Yes, this PSA is memorable, but what did it actually accomplish? According to the Ad Council “By the end of the campaign, Keep America Beautiful local teams had helped to reduce litter by as much as 88% in 300 communities, 38 states, and several countries.”

So what makes this and other ads so memorable and effective? Do we connect with it emotionally – responding to the Indian crying? Did it bring to the surface something we hadn’t thought of before – what litter does to the environment? Was it just provocative enough to get us thinking? I believe it was a combination of these factors, along with the simple clear message that it put in front of the viewer.

Ironically an Italian played the Indian, and there were a few more Keep America Beautiful PSAs of similar style and content made, but none as successful as the crying Indian in the canoe. Regardless, it remains one of the most memorable and impactful ads almost 40 years after it first aired.

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