LOS ANGELES — Smokey Bear turns 70 this summer. But instead of kicking back in retirement — whacking golf balls or sniffing around for early-bird dinner specials — the bear in bluejeans is returning to work to educate people about wildfires.
Last year, there were 47,579 wildfires nationwide, according to the federal government. Typically, nine out of 10 are caused by humans. Fire danger is expected to be high this summer, particularly in the parched Western states.
So, with the help of local ad agencies, Smokey Bear has been enlisted for a new marketing campaign to remind humans to be more careful.
Handlers of the iconic animal have decided he needed a younger and fresher look. They want him to fit in with the millennial generation of teenagers and young adults.
Smokey Bear now has a Facebook page as well as Instagram and Twitter accounts. He has 22,000 followers on Twitter. His social media profile got a boost in February when musician Pharrell Williams showed up at the Grammys award show wearing a brown felt hat that people joked looked like Smokey Bear’s ranger hat.
“The nice thing about Smokey is that he has evolved,” said Loren Walker, acting national fire prevention coordinator at the U.S. Forest Service, and Smokey Bear’s primary caretaker.
The bear was created Aug. 9, 1944, as a property of the U.S. government. During World War II, government officials were worried that enemies might set fire to U.S. forests to destroy an important natural resource: wood. More than 22 million acres of U.S. forest burned each year at a time when the government sorely needed the timber.
To help Uncle Sam with its messaging in the war effort, a group of ad executives formed the nonprofit volunteer group the Ad Council. They helped generate posters and slogans for the government, including the famous “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”