In 1981, Smokey’s slogan “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” became so famous it was abbreviated.
Recognized by 96 percent of U.S. adults
Ranked the 2nd most recognized ad symbol in America
290,000+ Facebook fans
24,000+ Twitter followers
Fast-growing YouTube and Instagram audiences
Oldest, longest-running public service advertising (PSA) campaign in U. S. history
Credited with saving millions of acres of U.S. forest lands
He, of course, is Smokey Bear, the fire prevention symbol created by forestry officials in 1944. Smokey is celebrating his 70th birthday this month (August 9, to be exact) and you’ll be seeing and hearing about his many birthday celebrations from Washington, D.C. to Montana and numerous cities in between.
Smokey’s history is proudly linked to FCB, which has created the pro bono PSA campaign featuring the beloved bear for the past 70 years. In 1942, Don Belding volunteered the creative services of his office in Los Angeles to the War Advertising Council (later the Ad Council) and FCB has been nurturing and evolving Smokey and his fire prevention messages ever since.
A large, imposing bear wearing a Forest Ranger hat and firefighter’s dungarees, Smokey was created by the U. S. Forest Service during the War to combat the fear of fires in U. S. woodlands caused by enemy shelling on the California coast. He first appeared in 1944-45, while the few simple but powerful words of his message — “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” — appeared three years later in 1947. (The message changed later to “Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires.”)
In the past seven decades, working closely with the Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council, FCB has helped Smokey maintain and communicate his message to the point that he is credited with reducing the number of acres burned annually by wildfires from 22 million in 1944 to an average of 6.7 million annually today.
Smokey’s creative works across all communications channels, including social media, school lesson plans and U.S. postage stamps, to help children and adults across the U.S. understand their role in preventing wildfires. Across the evolving campaign he has been seen in a variety of images illustrating everyone’s personal duty to act responsibly and prevent forest fires. Posters for Smokey, for example, show him drenching a campfire with a pail of water (1944); telling folks to hold a match “til it’s cold” (1946); lamenting the fire-swept results of one careless match (1954); pleading with one word – “PLEASE” (1965); staring at an eye-catching word “THINK” in which the “I” is a lit match (1974); and a tough, documentary-style TV commercial that portrays a normal, middle-aged family man being jailed for accidentally starting a forest fire (1985); and a unique, half-burned outdoor board in Los Angeles, headlined “Forest fires burn more than trees,” spectacularly symbolized the threat of forest fires (1987).
Over the years, FCB has helped Smokey evolve into an icon of authority respected by multiple generations in the U.S. by keeping him up-to-date with realities, cultural changes and notable events. Most recently, new TV, web, print, radio and outdoor ads show outdoor lovers celebrating Smokey’s 70 years of service by thanking him with a big hug — an extension of earlier PSAs created by FCB in which Smokey gave rewarding “bear hugs” to citizens who take the right steps to prevent fires.
FCB’s rich heritage includes many outstanding campaigns for public good, proving again and again that good advertising can make a positive impact and change behavior. Smokey Bear is a leader in that realm. In the words of Eric Springer, chief creative officer of FCB West:
“Seventy years marks a long and successful run for any advertising campaign. Smokey Bear has evolved with each generation and continues to resonate with a broad audience. We are honored to be a part of his legacy.”
Smokey is celebrating his milestone birthday with a nationwide media tour that includes an appearance on the Today Show. You can join in on the celebration by signing Smokey’s digital birthday card.