“Earth Day” – The Roots of the Name Remembering Julian Koenig
June 20, 2014
Julian Koenig, who is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most innovative advertising writers and the creative force behind memorable campaigns, including for the original Volkswagen Beetle — and the name Earth Day — died on June 12 in Manhattan, according to the New York Times. He was 93.
In 1970, when a group of activists led by former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day Network Board Chair Denis Hayes, were organizing a national day to draw attention to environmental issues, Mr. Koenig learned of the event and reached out to the group. One of the leading early ideas was “Environmental Teach-in.”
“Give me a few days,” Mr. Koenig told Denis Hayes, according to an email Mr. Hayes wrote to Julian Koenig’s daughter Sarah. “A few days later, we received a set of tear sheets for a full-page newspaper ad to announce the campaign,” Mr. Hayes wrote to Ms. Koenig. “He offered a bunch of possible names — Earth Day, Ecology Day, Environment Day, E Day — but he made it quite clear that we would be idiots if we didn’t choose Earth Day.”
“Environmental Teach-In” was just killing us,” Denis wrote in an email to the Earth Day Network Board on June 16, “and Julian was a gift from heaven. The staff and I sat around that evening with pizza and beer, looking at the various mock-ups he’d sent us for a full-page ad, and the ‘Earth Day’ one just resonated.”
The event was planned for April 22, 1970, Mr. Koenig’s 49th birthday, and the rest, as they say, is history. Our history.
Koenig’s influence was pervasive and lasting. While America celebrated consumerism during the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Koenig introduced a new concept, understated advertising that “masqueraded as meaning.” In 1959, he came up with the “Think small,” campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle, introducing this small practical car to the United States at the peak of chrome laden gas guzzlers and ostentatious tail fins. The ad, and the VW Beetle, were soon both huge hits. In 1999, the trade magazine Advertising Age ranked “Think Small” as the top advertising campaign of the century. “‘Think Small’ was thinking quite big, actually,” wrote Bob Garfield in Advertising Age.”