U.S. Forest Service - Smokey Bear (1944)

The Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention Campaign has been one of the longest running educational public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. Artist Albert Staehle created Smokey, whose original message was: "Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires." However in 1947, it became "Remember... Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires" and has been quoted and known throughout the nation since then.

Why We Love Smokey Bear

A. Smokey's catchphrase is catchy

Most small children can remember the simple and catchy phrase “Only you can prevent forest fires”. It encourages the receiver of the message to take responsibility, is short, simple and sticks in your head. “Only you can prevent forest fires” is as well known in America as “from sea to shining sea”.

B. Smokey is universally appealing to all ages

Who doesn’t love a bear in dungarees and a forest service hat? Similarly to Walt Disney’s characters in Bambi animals have a classic appeal for both adults and children alike. Mascots elicit immediate empathy, camaraderie, ownership, and are entirely relatable, just like your favorite sports team mascot.

C. Smokey is an educational figure

Smokey teaches children to love our environment, and care for natural resources that belong to us all. Educational campaigns that help the environment, our self esteem, encourage good behavior towards each other are heartwarming and appeal to everyone.

What We Can Learn From Smokey Bear

1. Inspire personal responsibility

Having a catchphrase that addresses the viewer specifically was a classic tactic of wartime campaigns and puts responsibility and pride on taking responsibility on the target of the campaign. Smokey inspired personal responsibility and pride, as all catchy educational campaigns can.

2. Frame your message to all ages

Part of the success of Smokey was that the target audience was both children and adults. When the message appealed the entire family, the whole family could be engaged in proper forest fire prevention while they are out camping.

3. Use relatable imagery

Finally, Smokey was so successful because of the appeal of a cartoon character softened the message that that humans were responsible for their actions and that potentially could result in drastic consequences if procedures were not followed. Children and adults alike could relate to a cartoon character and absorb the information more easily.

Key Moments

The War Comes Home

After Pearl Harbor, authorities became concerned that domestic wildfires could draw resources away from the war effort. So the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program created posters and slogans, including "Forest Fires Aid the Enemy," and "Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon."

The Bambi Effect

Disney's "Bambi" put cute forest animals front and center, so the Forest Service jumped on the Bambi-wagon and decided to use animated forest characters to prevent forest fires.

Introducing Smokey

Smokey Bear was created

The Legacy Continues

Only YOU can prevent forest fires