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SALT LAKE COUNTY -- One of the most recognizable icons in America celebrates a birthday this week. Smokey Bear was created in 1944, but the campaign really took off in the 1950s. It was an ad campaign that proved very successful in decreasing forest fires and making Smokey Bear a beloved figure to children of several generations.
Lance Turner likes to sketch and draw. He spends time doing it every day. But in the 1950s, as an art director of storied ad agency Foote, Cone and Belding, he got an assignment to market Smokey Bear.Turner said, "I liked the outdoors, and so I was chosen to work on the Smokey Bear Project. It was just in the development years. I am not the originator." But Turner's work took Smokey to new heights as the campaign resulted in a measurable drop in forest fires by focusing the message on children.
"Not only did we have billboards and posters in the forests, we also enlisted the schools and put posters and promotional materials in the schools," he said.
Smokey Bear still remains a recognizable figure to people of all ages.
"Smokey took on a personality, and they haven't changed him too much, which is very wise," Turner explained. "You start these slow evolutions and pretty soon Smokey Bear is out the back door as Smokey Bear."
While some of the emotional images of the 50's are gone, Smokey's message and image remains nearly the same: "Only you can prevent wildfires."Turner said, "Almost from the beginning he has the ranger's hat and the big round face, and we had him be adorable. That was part of the scheme, so there would be some emotional response to what was going on and that, of course, is what I think caused the success." Even at 65, Smokey Bear is not retiring. In fact the campaign continues on with the U.S. Forest Service, which is making Smokey now bilingual in English and Spanish.