NPR : Tell Me More

The Competing Interests Behind Smokey Bear And The Crying Indian

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You might remember phrases like "only you can prevent forest fires," spoken by Smokey Bear or "take a bite outta crime," from McGruff the Crime Dog. But how much do you really know about the company behind these iconic campaigns? Tell Me More guest host Celeste Headlee speaks with Wendy Melillo, author of the new book How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America: A History of Iconic Ad Council Campaigns about some of the hidden messages within these ads.

Interview Highlights



On The Companies Behind The Crying Indian

As the ad industry is praising it, environmental groups are crying foul, arguing that, look who this ad is done on behalf of. The sponsoring organization is a Stamford, Connecticut based non-profit called Keep America Beautiful... The people who are behind Keep America Beautiful are the packaged good manufacturers in this country. So we're talking — McDonald's, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Reynolds Aluminium, Nestle Waters, the American Chemistry Council — these are the people who produce both the chemicals and the packaging material that ends up in our waste stream and in our garbage stream.


On How Smokey Bear Can Make Forest Fires Worse

Smokey preaches a fire suppression message. And if you talk to fire historians and people who study fire, this is a problem with our wildfire problem we have today. If you suppress fire, naturally occurring fires caused by lightning don't burn off that underbrush. And if you don't burn off that underbrush, when you do get one of these out-of-control fires, it just is very difficult to control. So the fire suppression message was problematic.

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