Smokey bear takes us through the decades of forest fire prevention.
YouTube, Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear Stars in 80th Anniversary PSA With a Brand New Voice

“Only YOU can prevent wildfires!"

Smokey Bear's first campaign was launched in 1944 with the sole purpose of teaching Americans how to prevent forest fires. Now, 80 years later, his message has remained consistent, though Smokey's voice has changed. The newest public service announcement, voiced by actor Brian Tyree Henry, highlights the important role Smokey has played over the decades in wildfire prevention and reminds viewers that "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires."

"The 1944 Smokey Bear campaign was born from a need to inform the public about our role in preventing wildfires," said Scott Phillips, South Carolina state forester and president of the National Association of State Foresters in a press release. "As the national wildfire crisis grows in severity, with each year bringing unprecedented wildfire activity to new states, taking significant tolls on resources, responders, and our forest lands, the imperative of Smokey's message has to grow right along with it. Every person who Smokey's message has touched is one more asset in the combat against catastrophic wildfire."

Of course, his message is just as vital now as ever. Nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by people, with individuals mishandling campfires, setting off fireworks, or even causing catastrophes by way of gender reveals. Though his message is still needed, Americans easily recognize Smokey's image. When surveyed, 80% of respondents correctly identified him by his photo, according to an Ad Council press release. He has been featured on lunchboxes, stamps, and social media, and he has his own animated emoji.

Smokey Bear's new PSA was put together by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), and the Ad Council. Smokey's look and voice have changed through each iteration, including the modernizing of his uniform. The creatives agency FCB New York spent 16 weeks working with Alterian, a special-effects studio, to develop a suit operated by four puppeteers. The elaborate suit allowed Smokey to deliver his famous line without the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI).

"Smokey Bear is an American icon, and FCB New York could not be more proud to play a part in sharing his important message over the decades," said Ida Gronblom, FCB New York's executive creative director. "For Smokey's 80th birthday, we wanted to pay homage to his years of wildfire prevention education by taking a trip down memory lane, reminding everyone that although Smokey teaches wildfire prevention, only you can prevent wildfires."

In addition to the film, FCB will release movie posters with looks reflecting Smokey in the 1940s, '50s, '70s, and '80s, designed in collaboration with illustrator Sam Gilbey. Each poster will feature the wildfire prevention tips Smokey is so famous for, including campfire safety and securing tow chains. Each poster will have a nostalgic throwback with a look featuring outfits, style, and art from the corresponding era. The ad will run on TV, radio, print, outdoor advertising, and digital media across the United States. There will also be events, partnerships, and social media campaigns throughout the year to celebrate Smokey.

"Smokey Bear and his iconic message have been welcomed into our homes and made a permanent fixture of American history and culture," said Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council. "That kind of legacy is only possible because of the continued innovation from FCB, NASF, and the USDA Forest Service to keep Smokey relevant while his message remains consistent."

READ MORE: Real-Life "Smokey Bear" Takes Forest Fire Education to the Next Level