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Learn With Us > AdLibbing Articles > Good in Action

Smokey Bear: 75 Years of a Brand Icon

This article was originally published on Ad Age on Friday, August 9th, 2019.

The Ad Council’s Lisa Sherman sits down with FCB Global’s Susan Credle to pay tribute to the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history and its icon—Smokey Bear.

Lisa Sherman: FCB has been the agency of record for Smokey for 75 years. How have you kept Smokey relevant?
Susan Credle: Smokey might have a better answer than I do. After all, he’s been part of FCB for 75 years, whereas I’ve only been here slightly more than three. I believe that characters like Smokey are timeless because people trust them. They are beloved because they have consistent values and traits that allow us to build a long-term relationship with them. The key to keeping them relevant is making sure they apply those values and traits to current culture and needs.

What can brands and other agencies learn from the success of Smokey?

Smokey is a case study in the value and importance of respecting the equity of a brand. I watch so many marketers walk away from brand equities that they believe are old, tired and worn-out. Brand equities— like characters—suffer from ageism. Too often, we want the shiny new thing instead of seeing the value that comes from being known, understood and trusted. Perhaps because our egos want to create something that is all ours. Maybe because we simply get bored with ideas. Or we believe something fresh will give the business a boost. I always recommend first looking at how equities can be re-energized instead of retired. It’s such a waste of really valuable business capital.

Given where we are with so many media outlets, distractions and purpose-driven marketing campaigns, do you think it’s possible to create an icon like Smokey today?

An iconic character creates lasting, emotional connections with audiences and does so quickly. It holds together all the disparate pieces of today’s fragmented media landscape. And it can authentically express a brand’s purpose. That makes them 3-for-3 in the most critical areas of modern brand-building. No wonder characters like Smokey are more valuable than ever. It can be done today, but only if you’re in it for the long haul. Consumers see through short-term thinking, especially when it comes to relationship-building.

How has the rise of digital given Smokey a voice?

Smokey has always been about educating the public. Data and technology allow Smokey to deliver more timely, accurate and targeted information and more compelling and engaging content to his friends and fans, both young and old.

There is an interesting rule when working with Smokey. He can only say one thing: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” The FCB team created a Smokey emoji that allows people like Stephen Colbert, Al Roker, Jeff Foxworthy and Betty White to speak for Smokey. We think this basic little emoji will allow others to help Smokey educate more people about the importance of protecting the natural environment from wildfires.

Betty White | Wildfire Prevention | Ad Council
Jeff Foxworthy | Wildfire Prevention | Ad Council
Al Roker | Wildfire Prevention | Ad Council

What does “purpose” mean to you?
“Purpose” is an interesting word. Like the word “digital,” we use it in many different ways. I have always believed that purpose is simply why a brand exists in the world. Often, I find the word “purpose” being used synonymously with cause marketing. I believe these are two different things. Purpose is why you exist, why you have meaning in people’s lives. Cause marketing is doing good in the world through the lens of your authentic purpose. Sometimes, in the case of Smokey, they coexist. This is usually the case for nonprofits.

What does it mean for your team to work on purpose-driven campaigns?

At FCB, we believe everything we do for our clients should be purpose-driven. That doesn’t mean every campaign will be doing good in the world. But our work for our clients should reflect the purpose of the brand. We have a tool called “Brand Bedrock,” which is our bespoke way of asking, “Why do you exist?” From there, we’ll know what kind of causes we might want to take on to give the brand even more meaning and to create even more brand love.

What’s next for Smokey?
I think we should ask him! After all, Smokey has survived this crazy world of advertising longer than most. As long as those responsible for his well-being continue to honor his past while expanding his relevance and value to contemporary audiences, I’m quite sure he’ll be here long after I’m gone.


smokey the bear history

75 Years in the Making: The Evolution of Smokey Bear

By Lauren Zollo
Today, the icon of the longest-running PSA (public service announcement) campaign in American history turns 75. To celebrate Smokey Bear’s impact on wildfire prevention, we’re taking a walk down memory lane. Read on to see some of Smokey Bear’s greatest moments and how his message and presence has evolved throughout the years.
August 9, 2019

Reflecting on Diversity & Inclusion in Advertising on the 5th Anniversary of Love Has No Labels

By AdLibbing
Five years ago, the Ad Council took on an anti-discrimination campaign which quickly turned into Love Has No Labels—a movement to celebrate diversity, inclusion and belonging across race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender and religion. In partnership with R/GA, we launched Skeletons in 2015; since then the cultural climate (and the number of brands talking about diversity & inclusion) has changed quite significantly. But our message remains—love is the most powerful force to overcome bias and discrimination.
February 14, 2020

Wildfire Prevention

For more than 75 years, Smokey Bear has protected our forests and promoted wildfire prevention. His powerful message, “Only you can prevent wildfires,” is at the heart of America’s longest-running PSA campaign.

Smokey’s message remains relevant today, as nearly nine out of ten wildfires nationwide are caused by humans and can be prevented. Additionally, during these unprecedented times, spending time outdoors has never felt more valuable. Whether we’re passing the time in public lands or in our own backyards, we all have a role to play in keeping our safe places safe by acting responsibly and doing our part to help prevent wildfires.

For more information on wildfire prevention, visit
June 6, 2018


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