Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a fascination with Smokey Bear. I grew up in an outdoorsy family and nature was a big part of my life growing up, and Smokey was always hanging out somewhere, whether it was on a billboard or a fire danger warning. His famous catchphrase, “Only you can Prevent Wildfires” has always lived rent-free in my head and instantly comes to mind whenever I think of the big brown bear ranger. I genuinely attribute a big part of my fascination and deep love of nature and animals to Smokey: He taught me how to respect the woods, be responsible around wildlife and enjoy the great outdoors. Smokey’s entire purpose has been fulfilled, and the way he was marketed to a young impressionable child helped accomplish the mission he was created for.
Smokey began gracing advertisements and print media as far back as the mid-1940s, as part of a public awareness campaign created by the USDA Forest Service. Inspired by a real bear who survived a man-made wildfire, Smokey was created to bring awareness to the dangers of careless camping and the effect it can have on wildlife. Even though he began as a loosely illustrated character in magazines, Smokey would go on to feature on US postal stamps, radio shows, tv commercials, and merchandise across the country. Smokey can still be found on billboards, advertisements, and shirts at every National Park gift shop. With his Disney-esque design, kind eyes, and sweet shovel, Smokey is easily adaptable to plushies, apparel, pins, and anywhere else he can be marketed.
Smokey is an important icon who has helped improve the status of nature in wildlife in America; he’s also been many children’s favorite mascot growing up. The ol’ grizzly is a perfect example of why brand mascots are amazing marketing tools and can help shape an entire brand’s identity.
Why You Need a Brand Mascot
A big benefit of brand mascots is ambassadorship; give brands a representative, built-in, and ready-to-go. While it is always beneficial for a brand to find influencers and grow its network through ambassadors, a brand mascot instantly puts a fun, quirky rep in front of a brand and links the brand experience with the character. This is incredibly effective in building brand awareness and loyalty.
Merchandising is another fantastic way to use mascots to elevate a brand: Smokey meant so much to me because I could own my own Smokey in the form of a stuffed animal. Brand mascots are simply more fun; when M&M’s creates merchandise, there’s a reason they feature their characters on shirts and not the simple word mark.
The last, and probably most impactful reason for using a brand mascot is memorability. M&M’s, Mr. Clean, Chester Cheeto, Mr. Peanut: All of these characters are known to people around the world, and can immediately be connected to the products they advertise. No one thinks of Mr. Clean without immediately remembering the magic eraser. No one will see the GEICO gecko and forget his memorable jingle. If a brand has a high-quality product and a high-quality mascot, the synergy between the two helps create brands that stick in people’s minds.
Smokey will always be important to me, and I will always contribute his poster PSAs as one of my stepping stones into graphic design. Being exposed to creative branding, effective marketing, and well-designed advertisements made me a Smokey fan, and I’ll never forget his motto and message. Good brands can create customers and good brand mascots will create loyal fans.