Flashback Friday: “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”

Looking back into my childhood with my many visits to national parks, Smokey the Bear easily became one of my favorite cartoon characters. I knew that his message had been around since before I was born, but I had no idea that this bear and his memorable words was the longest running ad campaign in Ad Council history.

Originating in the early 1940s, Smokey the Bear and his synonymous slogan were developed to warn the public about accidental forest fires. Nine out of ten wildfires at the time were due to people being careless.

As the years progressed, the image of a friendly bear warning the public about fire destruction transitioned into radio and video advertisements, and the popularity of Smokey spread across the nation.

In the spring of 2001, the Ad Council gave the slogan a modern update changing it to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” to make the public aware of all types of fires occurring in the wild, not just ones that originate in forests. Visiting www.smokeybear.com today brings you to a site that encourages kids to “Get Your Smokey On”, a much different message than that of years past.

So behind this loveable, huggable bear in a ranger hat stands a message that is one of the most successful public service advertisements in our nation’s history. According to the Ad Council, “Smokey Bear is recognized by 97% of adults, and 3 out of 4 adults are able to recall Smokey’s message of ‘Only You Can Prevent Wildfires’ without prompting.” If that’s not a successful campaign, then I don’t know what is! To end this post I’d like to give a shout out to Smokey for making me and millions of people across the country feel empowered to prevent forest fires. Thanks pal!

Year: 1948
Credit: Rudy Wedelin

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