Professor Michael Harrold
03 March 2015
A Critique of Keep America Beautiful Campaign for Pollution
Frequently, it is typical to view commercials or ads that give us a clear message or leave us with either a right or wrong feeling long after we have seen it. Not often do we stop to realize what the point was or what devices were used to articulate the message. Companies have studied what makes their audience buy in. They use rhetorical devices and elements to play on our ethos, pathos, and logos. Advertising uses these tools to broadcast information and ideas into a convincing and meaningful ad. To understand, a Public Service Announcement (PSA) sponsored by Keep America Beautiful and The Advertising Council was viewed. Many rhetorical strategies throughout the PSA, focused on the elements of ethos, pathos, and logos, in an plea for the targeted audience to stop littering and polluting the environment. PSA’s expose the fact that individuals have a responsibility to actively intervene or the world as we know it will become a polluted trash pit.
In March of 1971, Keep American Beautiful, a non-profit organization, aimed to educate individuals about litter prevention, released a one-minute commercial on the effects of littering and pollution. The new campaign was strategically released to coincide with the anniversary of Earth Day. The PSA’s mantra was “People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It”. The ad would later become the “Crying Indian” ad. Actor, William Conrad, narrated the PSA and featured actor Iron Eyes Cody as the Native American. The PSA can be considered a rhetorical situation because it contained the three fundamental aspects of a rhetorical situation: need, audience, and constraint. The need, also known as exigency, was to inform viewers of the severity and relevance of what can happen if littering and pollution continued. The overall goal was to provoke the viewer’s emotions to take a hand in Keeping America Beautiful.
Pathos: an appeal to the viewer’s emotions. The prevalent device, centered on a Native American man, devastated by the destruction due to littering and pollution. The destruction being done was affecting some of the earths most beautiful and natural resources; land, water, and sky. The Native American man is rowing his canoe peacefully down the river, appeals to a place deep inside everyone who understands the struggle of Native Americans many years ago. The shame and guilt that some viewers automatically feel after seeing the ad leaves us wanting to take up for the Native American man. This brilliant PSA causes viewers to see firsthand the destruction that is taking place with littering and pollution. It also leaves them with the realization what will happen if we do not take action immediately.
The PSA sets the mood with Iron Eyes Cody paddling his canoe through a serene estuary yet a beautiful river at daybreak. Newspapers floating alongside him spoil the scene. The scene further unfolds as the cameras focus on a ship in the distance spreading pollution into once pristine waters. The cameras continue to pan along the banks of the river revealing unsightly factories polluting the air. Iron Eyes Cody reaches the bank, and gets outs of his canoe only to find, the once untouched shoreline littered with debris and trash. William Conrad begins. “Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that once was this country”. Iron Eyes Cody then walks away from the shoreline and is instantly transposed alongside of a busy highway. While standing in the shoulder of the highway, a speeding car approaches and the young passenger inside consciously tosses a bag of trash out of the window, which ultimately lands at his feet. The narration picks up again saying “some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that once was this country”, Conrad pauses briefly then continues by saying, “and some people don’t”. The camera then focuses at