This past Monday, April 22, marked the 49th Earth Day. The evergreen idea was led by environmental activists Denis Hayes and Wisconsin Senator Gaylor Nelson. But without branding help from a Mad Man in the Copywriting Hall of Fame, it was doomed for a fragile existence.
Julian Koenig, who died in 2014, was the copywriter behind many legendary ad campaigns including VW’s “Think Small” and “Lemon,” Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” and the naming of Earth Day.
Following his 1941 graduation from Dartmouth, Koenig did not take a straight path to advertising. He served a few years in the Army, spent a short time at Columbia Law, worked for the Yonkers Indians, a semi-pro baseball team, and set out to write novels. But then he stumbled in to advertising, and after impressing founder Bill Bernbach with a spec ad, he landed at Madison Avenue’s legendary Doyle Dane Bernbach in the 1950s. The spot that got him hired which never ran, was for Hires Root Beer. It featured a little boy holding a bottle of the soda with caption ”the finest beer I never tasted.”
Just a year later, his 1959 “Think Small” print campaign for Volkswagen launched, a campaign we applauded previously. In 1999, Ad Age magazine named it the top campaign of the century.
In 1966, he was the sixth person inducted into the Copywriting Hall of Fame, whose earlier members were Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, and is boss, Bill Bernbach.
Later he worked on a resurgence of the Timex campaign “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” Timex ad:
And later he wrote a Xerox spot featuring a chimpanzee operating a copier, demonstrating just how easy it was to copy a document.
In 1970, Koenig learned about the efforts of a senator and some environmental activists, who were looking to create a national day of awareness of environmental issues. One of the early names for the effort was the Environmental Teach-in. Early research showed the name was a turnoff. As was reported by multiple reports in his obituary, Koenig called the organizers and volunteered his help. “Give me a few days,” he said. He returned with a number of possible names including Earth Day, Ecology Day, Environment Day, and E Day. The organizers agreed Earth Day was the strongest idea, and the next day placed an ad in the Sunday New York Times.
The event took place on April 22, 1970 – Koenig’s 49th birthday. He said later his inspiration for the name Earth Day was that it rhymed with Birth Day.
Earth Day is now marked in 175 countries, and translates in every language.