How a real life Mad Man created the biggest environmental movement in history

  • 19/04/2018
How a real life Mad Man created the biggest environmental movement in history
Photo credit: Image - AMC

This Sunday is the 48th annual Earth Day. Here's the story of how a real life Mad Man created the biggest environmental movement in history

Environmentalism and the high-flying martini-fuelled world of 1960s advertising don't seem obvious bedfellows.

But in 1970 the two came together when Earth Day, the biggest environmental movement in history, was created on Madison Avenue.

It was the democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson who founded Earth Day - planned as an America-wide day of environmental action to bring attention to the ecological issues of the day through protests and 'teach-ins'.

But the concept and that catchy name were created by Julian Koenig - a Madison Avenue advertising executive - the Don Draper of his day.

Mad Men's lead character even name dropped Koenig once during an episode.

Koenig was a successful copywriter, responsible for such eternal advertising slogans as 'Timex: it takes a licking, and keeps on ticking.'

Ad Age magazine's top 100 list of the most influential advertising campaigns in history has Koenig's work right at the top - his slogan for Volkswagen's 1959 'Think small' campaign, the project that brought the Beetle to America.

Koenig was no environmentalist but after a trip to east Africa, where his wife was from, spent volunteering on conservation projects, he took on ecological several projects - one, an advertising campaign to save the Serengeti, and work at an environmental magazine.

Around this time - the late 1960s - students and environmentalists were starting to bond together to create a US-wide day of education and protest focussing on environmental issues. The day had the working title of "Environmental Teach-In". It needed some branding work.

Koenig offered to help out for free. He offered them a range of names to choose from - including E Day, Ecology Day, and Earth Day.

But he stressed that he believed Earth Day, to be celebrated on April 22, was the strongest.

And how was the date and name for this now international day of action decided?

It was simple. April 22 was Koenig's birthday. Earth Day = birthday.

The world's first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. Since then it has grown from a single ad in the New York Times to the cause to an international movement.

This year Earth Day focuses on plastic pollution, with demonstrations and campaigns around the globe.

Koenig felt his contribution to environmental causes balanced out a life spent in advertising, "sell sh*t to people", as his daughter Sarah Koenig said.

"Advertising is built on puffery on, at heart, deception,” he told podcast This American Life in 2009. “And I don’t think anybody can go proudly into the next world with a career built on deception—no matter how well they do it.”

Koenig died in 2014 at the age of 93.