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AMiable Solution #313: Lessons from Smokey on Longevity

We all hope to be part of a great marketing campaign. One that customers will remember, prospects will be drawn to, and colleagues will envy. To help us get there, we turn to our old friend Smokey.

Smokey Bear, the face of the U.S. Forest Service and the brainchild—and longest-running campaign—of the Ad Council, turns 75 in August. For seventy-five years this furry forest friend has warned Americans about the dangers of being careless with matches and empowered young and old alike to prevent fires from occurring in some of the most vulnerable places in our country. We’d say his example is pretty (in)credible.

To that end, we offer you some Smokey-inspired tips for creating a business and a marketing strategy that survives the test of time:

  • Adapt to change. The Ad Council, the folks responsible for Smokey’s creation and distribution, says that Smokey’s forest fire prevention campaign helped reduce the number of acres lost to fire every year from 22 million to 8.4 million between his creation in 1944 and 2000. Then, inspired by a massive outbreak of wildfires, Smokey’s campaign changed its focus, and his slogan shifted from “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” Did the change hurt his image? Not at all. As of two years ago, 80% of outdoor recreationists polled correctly identified Smokey Bear’s image, and 8 in 10 recognized the campaign PSAs.

  • Help solve a persistent problem. According to the Ad Council, even today 9 out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans. Ian Davis, consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s director from 2003 to 2009, said in his 2014 article, Reflections on Corporate Longevity, that “organizations that successfully adapt over multiple product and innovation cycles” are ones that, among other things, “focus relentlessly on values and constantly demonstrate why they matter.” For Smokey Bear, continued education is key. His 2017 public service announcements (PSAs) remind outdoor enthusiasts and those who live near the great outdoors that their activities—include leaving campfires and warming fires unattended, burning debris on windy days, and incorrectly discarding smoking materials or BBQ coals—can spark a wildfire.

  • Work with a good team. Smokey Bear didn’t just appear out of nowhere. He exists because of a great team. A non-profit organization or federal government agency, in this case the U.S. Forest Service, sponsored his creation. A group of talented advertising experts donated their time and talent to his development. And a network of more than 33,000 media outlets donated and continues to donate time and space to Smokey’s message.

Seasons, people, and circumstances change. But only you (and your team) can identify and create marketing greatness.

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