Smokey Bear (a.k.a. “Smokey the Bear”) turns 70 this year, and he’s celebrating with a softer, social-media-friendly ad campaign.
Gone are the growls and signature pointed finger. He’s even dropped the bucket of water.
Smokey is now a hugger — a bearhugger, to be precise, with his own hashtag: #SmokeyBearHugs.
The push to make Smokey relevant to the Twitter generation comes from the Ad Council, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters in partnership with with the ad agency FCB West.
After 70 years in the public eye, the advertising icon now has a healthy Twitter following — 22,000 and counting, including AARP — although he still isn’t verified (ahem … Twitter). On Facebook, he has more than 184,000 fans. He also has his own YouTube channel.
Smokey rarely says much — in fact, he really only says one thing: “Only YOU can prevent wildfires,” a motto that changed slightly over the years from its original focus on forest fires. But FCB’s advertising gurus have produced a new Smokey image that is fresh, modern, and perhaps more humanizing.
“With Smokey, you can feel the humanity and the vulnerability of the character,” veteran ad executive Howie Cohen told the Los Angeles Times. “He is the expert on fire safety, but he lives in the forest so you want to protect him and all his little furry friends. …
“That’s anthropomorphism at its finest.”
Over the years, the Smokey Bear campaigns have gone in disparate directions. Smokey has teamed up with Bambi, gone fully animated and even taken a creepy turn, as in this 1978 spot:
This is all in the name of relevance. And perhaps it’s working: According to the Ad Council, 96 percent of adults still recognize Smokey Bear, and 70 percent know his signature line.
But Smokey Bear has to continue to tap into the sensibilities of younger Americans.
Check out Smokey’s evolution since 1944: