69-year-old icon Smokey Bear gets a makeover

A new campaign involving the furry forester rewards responsible campers with a bear hug, targeting 18- to 34-year-olds through mobile apps and social media.

If you are in need of a hug, look no further than your nearest national park.

A new campaign for America’s wildfire-fighting icon, Smokey Bear, casts him as a “warmer” character. In contrast to his role as an ominous forest watchman, the new Smokey is more personable and gives “bear hugs” to responsible campers.

“It’s definitely the first time Smokey’s giving hugs,” Lincoln Bramwell, chief historian for the U.S. Forest Service, told The New York Times.

The changes transform Smokey from “admonishing” people to “rewarding” them, Eric Springer, chief creative officer of the L.A. office of Draftfcb, the ad agency for the campaign, told the Times.

The more personal Smokey helps facilitate a new dialogue with campers.

New commercials featuring Smokey retain the popular phrase “Only YOU can prevent wildfires,” but show responsible campers getting a hug from Smokey if they follow fire-prevention tips.

The bear hugs, seen in the TV commercials, are tweeted as #SmokeyBearHug, along with a bear hug emoticon, to congratulate safe campers or reward someone who shares a helpful fire prevention tip. The bear hugs are an innovative, visible way to reward responsible campers.

“He’s actually having conversations,” Michael Bellavia, president of HelpsGood, the agency charged with the campaign’s social media strategy, told Ragan.com.

Smokey should be “where the conversations are happening,” Bellavia says. In other words, Smokey is adapting to the times.


The new campaign targets 18- to 34-year-olds, in part through social media and mobile apps.

Smokey’s message reaches his audience on social sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Google+.

His presence on certain social media sites is based on “the invested effort and the return we’d see on those channels,” Bellavia says.

Although the goal of the campaign is to decrease the number of wildfires—”that would be a measure you’d want to get to,”—Bellavia concedes that it is difficult to claim a “specific tweet prevented X, Y, Z number of wildfires, or a Facebook post did that.”

Smokey’s social media team tracks followers, retweets, “people talking about this” levels, and other “standard metrics.” According to Bellavia, “chatter” surrounding Smokey’s social media platforms has consistently grown over the past few years.

So why change Smokey now, after almost 70 years?

Smokey Bear is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. Created in 1944, Smokey has evolved from a caricature of wildlife to a major mascot for campfire safety.

However, campers today “weren’t sure what Smokey was asking them to do tangibly,” Bramwell told the Times.

Smokey’s new bear hugs create conversations that support the overarching goal of the campaign—to be more educational.

Across all platforms, Smokey’s new campaign emphasizes specific fire safety tips.

One commercial highlights instructions such as drenching the fire twice, stirring it, and sensing for heat.

“He’s not just kind of parroting out ‘only you can prevent wildfires’ over and over again,” Bellavia explains. “He’s actually having conversations with different folks.”

Check out the remade Smokey in one of his new videos below, and let us know what you think.

Remember, only YOU can prevent wildfires.

Topics: PR

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