The following article written by David Brower describes the Sierra Club’s ad campaign to save the Grand Canyon in the 1960s. This article appeared in Grand Canyon of the Living Colorado, published by the Sierra Club and Ballantine Books in 1970.
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Grand Canyon Battle Ads
By David Brower
The first full-page advertisement on behalf of the American wilderness came to the aid of the Colorado River system on October 31, 1955, when, through the philanthropy of the late Edward H. Mallinckrodt, Jr., and the public relations genius of Frederick M. Smith, an unusual page appeared in the Denver Post. Signed by the Council of Conservationists, it warned sponsors of the Colorado River Storage Project, who were meeting in Denver at the time, that they should abandon plans to build Echo Park and Split Mountain dams in Dinosaur National Monument. The ad made clear that unless these dams were irrevocably deleted from their plans, the wilderness lobby would use every legal means to block passage of the rest of the project. Aware of the power of organized conservationists, and wanting above all to obtain water and power for the Southwest, the sponsors agreed to take the controversial dams out of the bill.
Not until December 1965 was a full-page ad used for a similar conservation end. Representatives of various conservation organizations and foundations were to meet with Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall to discuss the boundaries of a potential Redwood National Park -- a long-dormant proposal brought back to life through the leadership of Martin Litton, Edgar Wayburn, Francois Leydet, and Philip Hyde, whose work helped create the Sierra Club's book, The Last Redwoods.
I urged the advertisement as a means of bringing forcibly to the Secretary's and the nation's attention the urgency of protecting as much as possible of the Redwood Creek watershed in that park -- an urgency the Secretary's meeting was about to overlook. The ad was run concurrently in five newspapers -- The New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Sacramento Bee. The ad, and almost three years of successful work following it, helped measurably in rescuing part of the superlative forests of Redwood Creek. The Internal Revenue Service demonstrated no concern about the form or vigor of the club's action. The administration favored a Redwood National Park.
By the following June, however, another battle raged in which the administration favored the building of two dams in the Grand Canyon. A series of ads that was to make conservation history was begun. Between June 9, 1966, and April 16, 1967, the Sierra Club placed four full-page ads in The New York Times (some of them were repeated in many other newspapers and magazines) to carry forward the battle to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon.
The first of the series was extraordinary in two ways. It was a split run -- something the Times had never undertaken before in its daily paper. Half of the June 9 copies of the Times contained my relatively quiet open letter to Secretary Udall, asking him to help save Grand Canyon and asking the public to speak up, too. It contained one coupon, addressed to the Sierra Club.
The other version was professionally written, for the most part by Jerry Mander, of the firm of Freeman and Gossage in San Francisco, and it outpulled the amateur ad by about three to two. It contained seven coupons, to be filled in and mailed if the reader could not find time to write individual letters. The coupons were addressed to the President, Secretary Udall, Congressman Wayne Aspinall of the House Interior Committee, to the reader's individual Representative and Senators, and to the Sierra Club. (On this last coupon readers were given the options of contributing money to help the fight, buying a Grand Canyon book, or joining the club.)
The Mander ad brought, in due course, a notable response in coupons sent to Washington and in money sent to the club (enough to cover the cost of the ads). The ad also brought an immediate response from the Internal Revenue Service -- a letter, hand-delivered to Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco the next day, clouding the club's tax-deductible status in such a way as to cut off major contributions to the club at once, an unprecedented application of administrative penalty in advance of investigation. The club submitted a painstaking defense of its position, but the Internal Revenue Service's cursory reply -- not delivered until almost two years later -- officially affirmed the club's loss of its valuable tax-deductible standing. Redress is at this writing still being sought through the courts and the Congress. The IRS action has cost the club some half million dollars in major contributions.
But there was a concurrent spectacular gain. Small nondeductible contributions multiplied. In three years the membership of the club trebled (from 39,000 in June 1966 to 78,000 in June 1969). And sympathy for the club exploded nationally, in editorials, newspapers and magazine articles, and in the still more convincing route of communication -- word of mouth. People who had never heard of the Sierra Club began asking Sierra Club members how the club was getting along with the IRS. And people who had always known about the Grand Canyon but who had been quite unaware of any threat to it were now very much aware of the threat. The further advertisements, in the face of the IRS action, kept the public aware.
Howard Gossage, in the course of the first ad's preparation, said that advertising is not really worth running unless it gets talked about and the reader can do something about it. This one was talked about. The Sierra Club realized it was far more concerned about a canyon than about tax status. And backlash from the IRS intervention was probably one of the important factors in staving off the dams. The American public, it turned out, did not wish the tax man to jeopardize the world's only Grand Canyon.