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 seventy years ago 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 FCB) created Smokey Bear to raise awareness about wildfire prevention. 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 an average of 6.7 million annually today.
For seven 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.
Renew the importance of wildfire prevention by creating awareness of the causes and consequences of wildfires, ultimately reducing the number of human-caused wildfires.
- Primary: Adults 18 – 34
- Secondary: Elementary school-aged children
Key Message: Your actions can prevent a wildfire more than you think.
Donated Media: over $1.4 billion since 1980
Ongoing outreach and support has turned Smokey Bear into one of the most recognized icons in advertising history. According to an Ad Council tracking survey of U.S. adults, approximately 96% recognized Smokey Bear; 88% identified Smokey Bear on an unaided basis; and 7 out of 10 adults are able to recall Smokey’s message of "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires" or a similar reiteration without prompting. In the same survey, slightly under half of adults (45%) recognized the most recent campaign advertising, and the proportion was higher for the core target of 18-34 year olds (56%).
The Wildfire Prevention campaign directs people to visit SmokeyBear.com to learn how they can help prevent wildfires. In 2013, the site hosted over 4.3M visits, averaging 360,000 visits a month. With more than 250,000 "likes" (and growing), Smokey's Facebook community responds enthusiastically to his posts, at times with several hundred comments and "likes." Smokey is continually inspiring a dialogue about the importance of wildfire prevention and the audience responds and shares their personal commitment to Smokey’s mission.
While not necessarily wholly attributable to the PSA campaign efforts, since the Wildfire Prevention campaign began in 1944, the total number of acres burned annually by wildfires has dropped significantly, from 22 million acres to an average of 6.7 million annually today. Further progress has occurred during the most recent campaign time period.