Dr. Ernest Bolt, University of Richmond


In 1971, a twenty-year-old political science major at Yale began what became a corporate protest against the war. Ira Nerken missed the first broadcast of CBS Reports "The Selling of the Pentagon," which was a report on public relations efforts by the Department of Defense. The portion which caused the most controversy was Roger Mudd's focus on the Defense Department's special interpretation of the war (it was right) and the Cold War. Evidence cited for selling of the war included tours by the Thunderbirds, Green Beret demonstrations, public speeches by colonels in the army, and films.

Nerken read about the post-broadcast controversy and decided that the war could be "unsold" to the American public. After talking about some of his ideas with an instructor at Yale, the instructor introduced him to David McCall, president of a large advertising agency in New York and one who must have been waiting for an opportunity to express publicly his own antiwar feelings.

The collaboration which followed, and the print and electronic ads which resulted, represented what historian Mitchell Hall calls "moderate antiwar activism."{1} Neither Nerken nor McCall had previously used confrontational tactics, and ad-man McCall insisted on accuracy and good taste. "Unsell the War" ads appeared in newspapers, newsmagazines, and on radio and television. The campaign also ultimately involved Clergy and Laymen Concerned (CALC), another peace organization, and over 300 writers, artists, directors, and producers from almost 50 ad agencies -- all of whom wanted an end to the war. Those coordinating the effort estimated that over $1 million in time and expenses were donated to the first-stage effort to "unsell" the war. One technique used was the Apple Pie television spot. Uncle Sam served pie to Americans representing students, labor, blacks, senior citizens, and others. The largest piece went to a general, who put his cigar down and quickly ate the pie. The message at that moment was: most taxes "pay for wars past, present, and future."

In 1972, the Unsell campaign entered a second phase, with another million dollars in time and talent being donated. Even some limited billboard advertising began, and California ad agencies and actors got more involved in this presidential election year. Henry Fonda was one of the actors brought into the campaign. Other peace organizations also joined in the Unsell campaign. Following Nixon's re-election, however, the Unsell campaign ended almost as quickly as it had begun. Historian Hall tries to measure the campaign's impact on public opinion and concludes that its major impact was in helping produce more pressure (and letters) on Congress to stop the war (by setting a specific date for withdrawal). The campaign also received a Clio Award (the ad industry's Oscar) for the Apple Pie television ad.



{1} Mitchell Hall, "Unsell the War: Vietnam and Antiwar Advertising," The Historian, 58,1 (1995), p. 72.


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