By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

February 22, 2024 | 3 min read

America’s longest-running PSA campaign marks a historic milestone with a new Brian Tyree Henry-voiced spot that honors the beloved bear’s cultural impact.

It’s one of the most recognizable PSAs (and the oldest campaign in America): “Only you can prevent wildfires,” delivered by the iconic ‘Smokey Bear.’

Today, the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) celebrate Smokey Bear’s 80th birthday with the launch of a new PSA, ‘Decades,’ produced pro-bono by award-winning creative agency FCB New York and distributed by the non-profit organization, Ad Council.

Since 1944, Smokey Bear has educated Americans on preventing wildfires. Even after 80 years, his resounding message is crucial, with nearly 90% of wildfires caused by humans.

Voiced by Emmy-nominee Brian Tyree Henry, the nostalgic spot takes viewers on a journey through time, with Smokey teaching campers how to safely enjoy the outdoors, from safely building a campfire to dealing with hot coals. Through these vignettes, the spot demonstrates the impact of the bear’s critical message: “Only you can prevent wildfires.”

Mandy Scott, USDA Forest Service National Wildfire Prevention program manager, commented: “Smokey and his iconic message ... has been heard and heeded by countless Americans for generations. ’Decades’ provides an iconic look at how that message has educated generations by revisiting his important lessons for preventing unwanted human-caused wildfires.”

With this campaign, Henry joins a lengthy list of celebs who have previously lent their voices for Smokey, including Sam Elliott, Al Roker and Betty White, among others.

The PSA comes at a time when wildfires threaten more Americans than ever due to climate change. A study in Nature Sustainability reveals that over half a million Americans faced catastrophic wildfires from 2000 to 2019.

“The 1944 Smokey Bear campaign was born from a need to inform the public about our role in preventing wildfires. 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,” said Scott Phillips, South Carolina State Forester and president of the National Association of State Foresters. “Every person who Smokey’s message has touched is one more asset in the combat against catastrophic wildfire.”

Fortunately, a 2023 survey showed how impactful Smokey Bear’s message is on Americans. According to the USFS, nearly 80% of respondents correctly named Smokey Bear by name when looking at his image.

FCB New York worked with a team of artisans and engineers from the SFX studio, Alterian, for 16 weeks straight in order to modernize Smokey Bear’s costume without help from CGI. It also took four skilled puppeteers to operate the new suit. In addition to the ’Decades’ film, the agency tapped movie poster illustrator Sam Gilbey to create retro movie posters inspired by Smokey in the 1950s, 70s and 80s.

The campaign will live across TV, radio, print, out-of-home (OOH) and digital channels throughout the US.

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