Academic journal article Journalism History

How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America

Academic journal article Journalism History

How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America

Article excerpt

Melillo, Wendy. How McGruffand the Crying Indian Changed America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2013.226 pp. $27.95.

The work of the Ad Council in its seventy-three-year history has been called the advertising industry's gift to America. However, after reading author Wendy Melillo's investigative critique of the council's origins, operating philosophies, and bestknown advertising campaigns, it is clear that it is a gift that comes with strings attached.

While many associate the Ad Council's formation with the onset of World War II, its actual conceptualization was not rooted in a collective industry response to the threats of Germany and Japan, but rather to the growing sentiment in the United States that advertising was unethical and uneconomic. Thus, its beginnings are rather self-serving and have been cloaked under the guise of "doing good." Industry leaders met late in 1941 to craft an advertising campaign to sell the American public and, more importandy, the American government on the benefits of advertising. What better way to do so than to position advertising's persuasive powers as the key to soliciting and solidifying American support for conservation, civilian defense, health and welfare, and increased production in response to America's entry into war?

Timing, in the advertising business, is everything, and members of the industry coalition were in route to Washington, D.C., to meet with administration officials just as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The result of those meetings was the creation of a council consisting of both advertising and mass media industry executives that could aid the government in fighting a war. In turn, the advertising industry would improve its image with the federal government and with the American people.

The Ad Council's work continued after the war ended and evolved into a legacy of memorable advertising tasked with framing issues via commercial messages aimed at changing consumer attitudes about a wide range of social problems including conservation, crime, drunken driving, education, pollution, and seat belt use. With 423 separate campaigns created from 1942 to 2012 and the use of $1 billion a year in donated advertising time and space for those messages, the Ad Council is equivalent to one of the top ten advertisers in the United States.

It is from this vantage point that Melillo's analysis takes off. …

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