Smokey Bear

From the editors: Talk about paranormal! We selected Smokey for our Spokescritters feature well over a month before an appalling acreage of Southern California was engulfed in flames.

It just goes to show that we’ll even resort to psychic phenomena to keep our lunch meat fresh and interesting!

Who doesn’t know that this 300-pound, shirtless black bear’s name is Smokey Bear. Well, quite a few. A “the” was added in for the sake of the rhythm of the anthem that was written for him in ’52, but, in fact, his name is officially “the”-less. Smokey Bear.

Forest Service ads began in earnest during WWII and were very dark: “Death Rides the Forest, When Man Is Careless” with an image of an industrious and arsonistic Grim Reaper (on horseback for expedience), or portraits of Hitler and Tojo above a blazing tree-lined horizon with the headline “Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon.”

In ’44, Disney lent the image of Bambi to the prevention marketing effort. The power of a good spokescritter was immediately evident and the Forest Service set about creating their own rights-free icon; a bear. Concurrently, a story about the rescue of a baby bear that was discovered after a huge wildfire in New Mexico hit the national press machine and the well-done cub soon became the incarnation of the Smokey icon.

His catch-phrase “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” ran almost without interruption until 2001, when it was updated to “…wildfires!” a more all-encompassing phrase. Smokey is over 50 years old and his public service campaign is the longest-running one in US history.

Cyber Smokey?
We’d like to spotlight the retro-styled “Smokey’s Vault” section of the official site (SmokeyBear.com). It has interesting historical info and a “hot” presentation of vintage ad campaigns.


[Smokey’s image is protected by U.S. federal law and is administered by the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.]

Gee Whillickers!

Alien Marketing

Accomplished television writer Jeff Vlaming decided he wanted to write for the TV series “The X Files,” then already a ratings sensation; and he probably knew he was not the only writer who’d made this decision. As it turned out, he would need to employ two equal parts of alien-technology and marketing to do the trick.

The producer for the show, Chris Carter, did prove extremely difficult to contact, directly and through his agent. An impression was not being made. Vlaming drew on his ’80s ad agency experience, creating something special and mailing it to Carter.

It was a piece of special-effects sponge sculpted into the shape of an alien embryo floating in a pickle jar, all wrapped up in piece of paper that said, ” My God, Mulder, it’s trying to communicate!” Removing this wrapping revealed the floating otherworldly fetus holding a little sign that read, “Jeff Vlaming is ready to pitch ideas.” He got the job.

Gosh, That’s Handy!

Design Illusions

In design and layout, one has to be wary of the occasional subtle occurrence of an optical illusion.

This is 12 point type with 12 points of leading (line space), but because of the position of the characters, visually, there seems to be more space between lines 1 and 2 than 2 and 3.

Placing this rotated box on top of a perfectly straight box creates the jarring illusion that they are both crooked.

An excellent example of a really tricky optical illusion, this picture shows the distortion of the perception of tone. These two squares (A and B) are exactly the same shade of gray. It’s true!

Ad Absurdum!

How to Hypnotize, circa 1950

Hypnotism is a sloppy, harmful and dangerous practice. And, as one would imagine, its inherently covert and manipulative nature led to some pretty outlandish ads.

These hypnotism ads generally featured dapper men in three-piece suits (you know, for legitimacy), staring intensely into the cover-girl faces of doe-eyed dames, dressed in obviously naughty dresses.

One old ad we ran across was even headlined with “I Can Hypnotize Your Friends – Then Turn Complete Control Over to You!”

We figure these ad guys figured out the most appropriate “sell” for hypnotism by going after the “brainwash your buddies” and the “nonconsensual social activities made easy” markets.