Talk about milking a birthday celebration. Smokey Bear is 75 years old in 2019 and if he eats a cake at each stop on tour he will be a 1,000-pound grizzly by 2020.
Smokey is an iconic American figure, even if he is an anthropomorphic bear. One way or another he has been saying, “Only you can prevent forest fires” since 1944.
He has delivered the goods in cartoon-like advertisements and magazine pages. This year, in true sports team mascot fashion, Smokey is mum when he is out and about.
It is pretty much universal mascot policy that mascots do not converse with their adoring public. Generally, a human being accompanies the mascot as a body guard-translator.
When Smokey appeared at the annual Kid’s Fishing Day event in early June, his companion was Shawn Anderson of the U.S. Forest Service.
Admiring Smokey’s physique, Anderson noted, “He doesn’t have a gray hair on him. He’s aging very well.”
At Beck Lake Recreation Area, Smokey-related trinkets of bracelets, stickers and magnets were handed out to kids to imprint the anti-forest fire message in young brains.
A person could also go online to purchase a Smokey pin recognizing the 75th birthday for $4.
Smokey sent forth an online missive for kids recently, reading, “I hear today is #NationalSelfieDay, but I can’t prevent wildfires all by myselfie.”
Smokey may be 75, a featured player in a long-running pubic service advertising campaign, but Anderson said, “His message hasn’t changed.”
Well, only slightly. Many will recall Smokey’s comments on preventing forest fires. Now he refers to such conflagrations as wildfires.
Same difference, more or less, but not limited to blazes in forests.
Before spilling the beans about the big 7-5, Anderson asked fishing kids how old they thought Smokey is.
“The kids guessed, ‘Oh, he’s 7,’” Anderson said. “‘He’s 14.’”
For these boys and girls, 75 years did not compute.
Smokey is the face of a noncontroversial message, so that perhaps explains his longevity. But there have been many long-running, creative commercial campaigns that haven’t lasted nearly as long as Smokey has in the public eye.
A Discount Tire Company commercial featuring a woman tossing a tire through a glass window as part of a returns policy, has been running since 1975.
A LifeCall, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial has been running since 1989. Tootsie Roll pop’s Mr. Owl has been making appearances since 1969. Smokey Bear actually dates back to before there was almost any TV at all.
Over the years there have been memorable posters and other methods essentially telling Americans not to litter with matches and cigarette butts. One 1950s poster showed off a muscular Smokey carrying a shovel and wearing one of his ubiquitous park ranger hats while protecting tiny bear cubs and a Bambi-like young deer.
Smokey is always the guy who knows what’s going on in the forest, the guy with the knowledge and tips. It is implied he will lead all to safety if someone is foolish and careless enough to actually start a wildfire.