Sporting a ranger hat and dungarees, Smokey Bear has become more than a symbol for protecting America’s forests from human-caused wildfires – he’s a piece of Americana. Smokey Bear has been the longest running public service advertising campaign in history, first appearing in a wildfire prevention poster in 1944. In partnership with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, the Ad Council and advertising agency Foote Cone & Belding (now DRAFTFCB) created Smokey Bear to raise awareness about wildfire prevention. Nearly seventy years later, Smokey Bear remains a highly recognizable and relevant American symbol.
Consistently ranked as one of the Ad Council’s top performers in donated media, and almost universally recognized by American adults, the Wildfire Prevention campaign featuring Smokey Bear has helped to reduce areas burned by wildfires from 22 million acres in 1944 to approximately 6.5 million annually today.
For over six decades, Smokey’s message has stayed the same – be responsible when you use fire. But as with all Ad Council campaigns, the Wildfire Prevention campaign has been continuously refreshed and re-evaluated. Beginning in 2008, the campaign expanded Smokey’s presence by reintroducing him with a new, modern look and an integrated communications strategy that incorporated social media to strengthen engagement with the campaign’s current target audience, young adults 18-34. In the years since, the campaign has continued to keep his image fresh and has also broadened his reach to school children throughout the nation with multimedia teaching resources.
Campaign Objective: Renew the importance of wildfire prevention by creatingawareness of the causes and consequences of wildfires, ultimately reducing thenumber of human-caused wildfires.
- Primary: Adults 25 – 34
- Secondary: Young adults 18 – 24, elementary school-aged children
Donated Media: over $1 billion since 1980; over $144 million since June 2008
Smokey Bear is one of the most recognized icons in advertising history. According to an Ad Council tracking survey of U.S. adults, approximately 98% recognized Smokey Bear; 92% identified Smokey Bear on an unaided basis; and 3 out of 4 adults are able to recall Smokey’s message of "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires" or a similar iteration, without prompting.
Since the most current campaign launched in June 2008, there have been more than 6.5 million visits to Smokey Bear's online home, SmokeyBear.com, with an average of more than 175,000 visits each month. Smokey Bear also boasts a Facebook page with more than 45,000 "likes" (and growing). The community responds enthusiastically to his posts and over 500 fan photos have been posted to his page (everything from Smokey snowmen to carved pumpkins).
While not necessarily wholly attributable to the PSA campaign, since it first began in 1944 the total number of acres burned annually by wildfires has dropped significantly, from 22 million acres to an average of 6.5 million annually today. More recently, from 2008 to 2010, the number of human-caused wildfires decreased by approximately eight percent (8%). Acres burned from human-caused wildfires decreased by about 62% during the same time period.