This article was originally published on Ad Age on Friday, August 9th, 2019.
Lisa Sherman: FCB has been the agency of record for Smokey for 75 years. How have you kept Smokey relevant?
What can brands and other agencies learn from the success of Smokey?
Smokey is a case study in the value and importance of respecting the equity of a brand. I watch so many marketers walk away from brand equities that they believe are old, tired and worn-out. Brand equities— like characters—suffer from ageism. Too often, we want the shiny new thing instead of seeing the value that comes from being known, understood and trusted. Perhaps because our egos want to create something that is all ours. Maybe because we simply get bored with ideas. Or we believe something fresh will give the business a boost. I always recommend first looking at how equities can be re-energized instead of retired. It’s such a waste of really valuable business capital.
Given where we are with so many media outlets, distractions and purpose-driven marketing campaigns, do you think it’s possible to create an icon like Smokey today?
An iconic character creates lasting, emotional connections with audiences and does so quickly. It holds together all the disparate pieces of today’s fragmented media landscape. And it can authentically express a brand’s purpose. That makes them 3-for-3 in the most critical areas of modern brand-building. No wonder characters like Smokey are more valuable than ever. It can be done today, but only if you’re in it for the long haul. Consumers see through short-term thinking, especially when it comes to relationship-building.
How has the rise of digital given Smokey a voice?
Smokey has always been about educating the public. Data and technology allow Smokey to deliver more timely, accurate and targeted information and more compelling and engaging content to his friends and fans, both young and old.
There is an interesting rule when working with Smokey. He can only say one thing: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” The FCB team created a Smokey emoji that allows people like Stephen Colbert, Al Roker, Jeff Foxworthy and Betty White to speak for Smokey. We think this basic little emoji will allow others to help Smokey educate more people about the importance of protecting the natural environment from wildfires.
What does “purpose” mean to you?
What does it mean for your team to work on purpose-driven campaigns?
At FCB, we believe everything we do for our clients should be purpose-driven. That doesn’t mean every campaign will be doing good in the world. But our work for our clients should reflect the purpose of the brand. We have a tool called “Brand Bedrock,” which is our bespoke way of asking, “Why do you exist?” From there, we’ll know what kind of causes we might want to take on to give the brand even more meaning and to create even more brand love.
What’s next for Smokey?