Don’t Litter PSA – Crying Indian

1970s, Anti-Littering, Featured Articles, PSA 11 7004

American consumers have often stereotyped Native Americans as being in tune with a bold, quiet strength, mysticism, and being “in tune’ with nature.

So, this leads us to the crying Indian. The crying Indian wasn’t actually Native American at all, in fact, he was an Italian actor that went by the name “Iron Eyes Cody”. In the 1970’s he appeared in a few anti-littering advertisements, some of the first ones as American consumers started to feel guilty about over-consumption and wastefulness. In hindsight, perhaps this is an example of how advertising doesn’t work, hm?

This public service announcement begins as Iron Eyes rows his classic canoe onto the beach shore to find it littered by a bunch of dirty, parasitic Americans. It’s filled with burger wrappers, drink containers, and the like. He steps over the rubble and somehow ends up at the side of the highway. Why he rowed to the side of the highway really isn’t our business, I mean, this is Iron Eyes Cody after all.

American consumers, however, not only lack respect for the land, but they also lack respect for people dressed in full costume on the side of the road. A sloppy, indifferent driver chucks their leftover fast food at him, ruining his moccasins. Shamed and hurt, Iron Eyes sheds a single tear.

“People start pollution, people can stop it.”

Here is a classic, original photo of Iron Eyes Cody from Mr. Girvan (Butch) Brown (Reliability Serviceman and Safety Chairperson). Thanks to Butch for sending us this unique photo of this retro icon of television’s past. The best guess is the others in the photo are TV or movie producers.

Iron Eyes Cody

About the author / 

Adam

Adam is an enigma, folded gently into dough, wrapped inside of cellophane, and hidden on the top shelf where he peers at passersby. He lives in Portland, OR with his wife and two dogs.

11 Comments

  1. Harry Minot June 12, 2010 at 11:07 am -  Reply

    I’m pretty sure this was produced by Compton Advertising for the Ad Council. Compton was later eaten whole by the Saatchi brothers. Milt Gossett was the head guy at Compton. A prince of a man! In those days it was a great, family-style agency.

    • Best Old TV Commercials August 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm -  Reply

      Thanks for the interesting facts – I didn’t know about Compton producing this one.

  2. G.MAN October 19, 2010 at 6:12 am -  Reply

    I found and old photograph and it has Iron Eyes Cody in it with 3 other people,
    Most likely producers. Its a authentic picture and looks to be early 60s or late 50s.Wish I could post it here..

    • Best Old TV Commercials October 19, 2010 at 7:17 am -  Reply

      That’s great! If you want, send it my way and I’ll add it to the post for you.

  3. sandi December 31, 2010 at 3:21 am -  Reply

    I have always loved this commercial. I was just telling my daughter about it and then I found this ad. I just can’t figure out how to send it to her.

  4. Maila Damian June 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm -  Reply

    We will be launching a network in FNX for Native Americans and indigenous cultures. I am looking for contents and PSA’s. Is there any way I can get a copy of this Crying Indian PSA? Thanks

  5. George Vaporean March 3, 2012 at 11:56 am -  Reply

    I would like a still of Iron Eyes with the tear on his cheek to create no littering posters for place of employment

  6. Mike Ricciuto January 6, 2013 at 11:36 am -  Reply

    The commerical was produced by Marsteller Advertising. I ought to know as I was the copywriter for this iconic spot. Actually the NY City office of Marsteller conducted a contest among it agencies in other cities in 1970. The client was the “Keep American Beautiful” organization. I was in the Pittsburgh office at the time and an art director by the name of Joe Mckenna and I as the copywriter teamed up and came up with the concept for the spot. Joe story-boarded the visuals and I wrote concept including the line “people start pollution, people can stop it. Later, it was produced by the NY City office and they took full credit for the spot. I got a nice letter and was later fired. Thus is was and still is with ad agencies.

    • Best Old TV Commercials January 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm -  Reply

      Very interesting, Mike. Thank you for contributing.

  7. Todd Davis May 21, 2015 at 3:18 am -  Reply

    When I was a kid in the 70s they used to run a commercial of a woman lying in a hammock with an infant singing a song about how much she wanted to live to see her baby grow up at the end of the commercial the narrator says she was killed by a drunk driver. Do you remember this commercial or know where I could find a copy of it?

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