Smokey the Bear turns 65

Shortly after the last round of fires in Los Angeles, a PSA went up on the bus shelter down the street: Smokey the Bear. Just as recognizable as Ronald McDonald or Spongebob Squarepants, but Smokey has a laudable mission. He's the one who reminds us all to be responsible with matches and fire. To remember that we must all do our part to keep our communities safe. Unfortunately, Smokey's job seems to be getting harder instead of easier.

I grew up with Smokey, although back then he warned against forest fires. That's because fires were usually in remote wilderness areas, started by a campfire that wasn't completely doused or a cigarette flicked out the window by a careless motorist. Now, however, Smokey uses the word wildfires. I guess that's because urban sprawl has gotten out of hand over the years. What was once open land is now home to McMansions. Forest fires are now in our backyards.

In any case, I started to think about how this public service campaign is just as crucial today as it was when it started 65 years agoperhaps even more so. Humans are still careless and, unfortunately, fires have become an annual occurrence in many cities and towns. People lose their homes, animals lose their habitat, and most of the time the fire is a result of human carelessness.

If you visit Smokey's website, you can find lots of interesting information (e.g. resources for teachers, activities for kids, and fire safety information). However, what I found the most fascinating is how Smokey's marketing efforts have evolved over time. There is an interesting archive, broken down by decade, that features posters, promotional materials for schools, radio PSAs, videos, collectibles (e.g. bobbleheads, stuffed animals, comic books, etc.), and other such items that bear Smokey's message.

A 1940s poster has "Death" on a horse, riding through trees and flames with the message: Death rides the forest when man is careless. Artwork from a 1990s poster beautifully depicts the faces of woodland creatures with the tagline: Our family depends on your family. Only you can prevent forest fires. And, a wonderfully simple black and white photograph from 2001 has a bird nest with three eggs that says: The only fire protection this home has is YOU.

If you enjoy history and marketing, I think you'll find Smokey's archive worth a look. On one hand, I am so glad that Smokey is still going strong with his message of responsibility and accountability. On the other hand, I'm sorry he has to keep telling us something we should already know by now.


  1. His name has always been "Smokey Bear"--not "Smokey the Bear." The misconception became so prevalent that the Agriculture Dept. launched a separate campaign to correct the misnomer. The campaign has been around almost as long as the original Smokey Bear character.

    Steven Spenser
    Praxis Communication/Seattle

  2. Steven,

    Thanks so much for your comment. You are absolutely correct. Even the website is, indeed, However, as with many things, if you use the correct term, people don't understand to whom or what you are referring.

    I didn't know about the campaign from the Ag Dept, though. That's really interesting. And somewhat odd that it would put time/money into correcting the name misconception.

    Thanks so much for sharing your insight! Greatly appreciated!

  3. UPDATE: Smokey Bear is now on Twitter! Check him out at @smokey_bear (no "the")!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...