Smokey Gets Serious

Smokey Bear comes out of hibernation next month—in the minds of adults.

The icon has been urging people to prevent forest fires since 1945 and as recently as last year. But research found that adults fondly remembered Smokey from childhood and wondered where he went. He was, it turns out, still attempting to reach children.

New TV and radio PSAs created by FCB, Los Angeles, in conjunction with the Ad Council, the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, attempt to reach grownups with a contemporary message and modified tagline.

“Kids know not to play with matches,” said FCB group creative director David Heise. Adults, he said, are spending more time in the woods, and wildfires are on the rise.

A 30-second TV ad shows twenty somethings sitting around a campfire, toasting marshmallows. As they leave, they douse the fire with water but it soon flames up again. The camera cuts to a chalk outline of a deer as a voice says: “Every year thousands are senselessly killed by people with no criminal record at all. People like you.”

Smokey’s head appears as animation at the end, so as not to detract from the serious message, Heise said.

The tag, which for 56 years was “Only you can prevent forest fires,” this year becomes “Only you can prevent wildfires.” The change reflects the increasing number of adults who live next to wildlands, Heise said.

The ads break May 1. The three-year campaign will include print and outdoor in 2002 and more TV, radio and print for 2003.