Advertising the Environmental Movement: Vickers and Benson’s Branding of Pollution Probe

This summer I'll be participating in the Eco-images: Altering Environmental Discussions and Political Landscapes workshop hosted by the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany. Below is a copy of my abstract. If you have anything to share, do feel free to let me know. While the advertisements produced by Vickers and Benson did wonders for establishing Pollution Probe's reputation, there was the occasional misstep. The image depicted above, the Probe Superhero, was rejected by the group because it was at odds with the idea that we are all responsible for resolving our environmental problems. As I've been told, a banner bearing this image was subsequently presented to Marshall McLuhan, who posted it in his office.

Abstract: "Advertising the Environmental Movement:  Vickers and Benson’s Branding of Pollution Probe"

In 1969 Vickers and Benson, Canada’s leading advertising agency, struck up a unique relationship with Pollution Probe, an upstart environmental activist group based out of the University of Toronto. Having read of the anti-pollution group’s early exploits, Vickers and Benson’s creative director was inspired to provide his agency’s services pro bono to help spread Pollution Probe’s message. Over the next two years a steady stream of full-page advertisements were placed in the Toronto Telegram, which in turn provided space at no cost. This advertising campaign would have a significant effect on the development of Pollution Probe. The slickly produced advertisements presented the appearance of a highly professional group that operated at ease with government officials and industry leaders. In reality, at this point Pollution Probe was operating on a minute budget, relying upon the work of volunteers and makeshift office space provided by the university.

This paper examines the Vickers and Benson advertising campaign. It highlights how the campaign influenced the public’s perception of Pollution Probe, a group that would become, in the early 1970s, Canada’s most renowned and reputable environmental activist organization. While the public visibility afforded by the campaign was important, this paper also argues that the advertisements presented Pollution Probe as a highly knowledgeable, authoritative organization that was well equipped to address Canada’s environmental woes. These advertisements also provide a precious window into the environmental movement’s past. As such, this paper will also consider the significance of the issues addressed in the campaign, as well as the manner of their visual depiction.