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The Shocking True Story Behind The 'Crying Indian' Commercial

Updated 2 Dec 2019 3.9k views13 items

Even if you weren't watching television in the 1970s, you've heard about the Crying Indian commercial. A Native American man in traditional garb canoes through a trash-filled river, past factories, and along crowded highways - all while a narrator bemoans the deterioration of the natural world. The commercial ends with a zoom-in on the man's face as a tear rolls down his right cheek. This visually striking scene has become synonymous with environmental activism and personal responsibility when it comes to tackling pollution.

The Crying Indian commercial was developed by the non-profit Keep America Beautiful (KAB), with a stated mission "to inspire and educate people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment." The Crying Indian PSA was part of a larger, decades-long collaboration between KAB and the Ad Council, founded in 1941 to work with advertising groups on public service campaigns designed to stimulate the economy by promoting business during World War II.

Why was KAB working with an industry-focused organization like the Ad Council to raise awareness about environmental concerns? The truth is KAB's founders were not as invested in anti-pollution activism as their campaign indicated, and their real motivation was to deflect responsibility for reducing waste away from corporate interests and onto people.

The Crying Indian is just the tip of the iceberg that represents KAB's marketing output and initiatives, which span from its inception in the 1950s to the present.

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