The Birth and Branding of Earth Day

With Earth Day celebrating its 40th anniversary today, I wanted to take a look at its origins. We tend to think of branding as a modern concept, but while the term may not have been in use in 1970, its concept was firmly in place. From its inception, Earth Day was perceived as an actionable commitment to improving the environment with a legion of loyal followers.

The Birth (edited from Wikipedia)

Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin announced his idea for a nationwide teach-in day on the environment in a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle in September 1969.

On 22 April 1970, Earth Day marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Approximately 20 million Americans participated. Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. That was the remarkable thing about it. Earth Day organized itself. [Precursor to social media, perhaps?]

The first mark

1970 ecology flag, Earth Day originsArtist and designer Ron Cobb created an ecology symbol which was a combination of the initial letters “E” and “O” from the words environment and organism. Cobb published it on 25 October 25 1969, placing the symbol in the public domain. Look Magazine took the theta/ecology symbol and incorporated it into a flag for their 21 April 1970 issue.

Symbolically, the lore goes: The flag is patterned after the US flag using 13 alternating green and white stripes representing the 13 original colonies. The yellow theta symbol in its historical use, is a warning symbol. The color green became synonymous with the land and environmental action, while the theta symbol would be an important visual foundation.

The Brand

Earth Day logos, 1970 and 2010, evolution

With Cobb’s symbol adapted into the Ecology Flag, the groundwork for the future global brand was set in place. From the 1970 Earth Week logo to the current 40th anniversary version, the visual elements that would play a part in Earth Day’s continuing evolution are clear in the design progression and adaptive forms: the crossbar from the theta, carried through the wavy horizon and back to the current “e.”

The engagement and emotional attachment to these symbols continues to surge. Add in the availability of websites and global social media, and the Earth Day brand is functioning at fever pitch.

Many argue that Earth Day has gone the way of Christmas or Halloween in its commercialism (Earth Day merchandise developed early with handmade pins and posters used to spread the word) – that its meaning and purpose is diluted or even forgotten within the crowd mentality. I think the message gets through to some. And on a global scale, some is a large number.

Images: The ecology flag is in the public domain. / Official 1970 Earth Week logo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. No attribution found. / Earth Day 2010 logo © Earth Day Network.
Earth Day illustration on website home © 2010 Janet Giampietro

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