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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Warning About Warming

Air Date: Week of

The Ad Council, famous for bringing the American public socially conscious mascots like Smokey the Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog and Hoot the Owl, is now taking a stab at global warming. Bruce Gellerman talks with Ad Council president, Peggy Conlon, about the new campaign.


GELLERMAN: Hey, remember this guy?

SMOKEY: Hello there folks. This is Smokey, the forest fire preventing bear. Those singing friends of mine...


GELLERMAN: Smokey Bear was one of the first public service advertisements created by the Ad Council. Since 1942, the volunteer Ad Council has devised some of the most venerable and memorable advertisement campaigns. It gave us Rosie the Riveter, the slogan “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” McGruff the crime-fighting dog, and the “Just Say No” anti-drug message.

Now the Ad Council wants us to cool it, and has launched a series of commercials designed to convince us to do our part to prevent global warming. Joining me from New York City to discuss the new Ad Council's new climate change campaign is Peggy Conlon, president of the organization.

Ms. Conlon, thanks for your time.

CONLON: My pleasure.

GELLERMAN: So, tell me about this ad campaign.

CONLON: The Ad Council is really delighted to be partnering with Environmental Defense – a longtime partner with the Ad Council – to inform the American people about the urgency about global warming and to give them a personal role in helping to reduce greenhouse gases and to stop global warming.

GELLERMAN: Was there any question about this being an issue that was too hot to handle?

CONLON: Well, there are no issues that are too hot to handle. I mean, we took on AIDS early. We took on recycling. We’ve taken on a lot of different issues that, at the time, there may have been some controversy around. Our real litmus test for taking on an issue is, of course, it has to be of significant importance to the country. But the second is that there is a personal action that individuals can take that will really make a difference.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Conlon, let’s play a couple of your ads and pick them apart, how’s that?


GELLERMAN: Okay, let’s listen.


BOY1: I’m getting a catcher’s mitt.

GIRL1: I’m getting ice skates.

GIRL2: I’m getting a devastating flood.

MAN: Adults are generous. We’re even giving kids global warming. But we can still reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Go to fightglobalwarming.com.

GELLERMAN: Yeah, that gets parents right where it hurts – right in the kids.

CONLON: Well, that was a creative insight that came out of all of the research the agency did. What they found was, although people don’t think that the effects of global warming are going to happen to them in their lifetimes, what did resonate was we don’t want to hurt the things we love. And so using children as a creative device to really frame this in terms of future impact I think was real genius.

GELLERMAN: In the past, some of the Ad Council’s ads have really become part of the cultural fabric. And I’m listening to this ad and they don’t seem to have that same, I don’t know, Smokey the Bear-ish kind of feeling to it.

CONLON: Well, you know, not every campaign has an icon, an animated character, or a catchy tag line, but these campaigns do begin to build and resonate with the American people. And if you look at things like seatbelts, we started that campaign over 20 years ago. Seatbelt usage has gone from maybe 21 percent up to over 80 percent.

“Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is really a great example of a message that has become a social norm. You know, 20 years ago you probably would have heard people say “let’s have one for the road,” and now you wouldn’t think of not picking a designated driver.

GELLERMAN: Any plans to retire Smokey Bear?

CONLON: No (laughs). No, we’d never do that.


CONLON: No. McGruff’s going strong at 25, and that’s not even counting dog years.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs). Well, Ms. Conlon, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

CONLON: Thanks for your interest, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Peggy Conlon is president of the Ad Council.




Fight Global Warming Campaign


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