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Being Hugged by a 7ft Tall Bear Wearing Jeans

By Nick Micale, copywriter, Draftfcb Los Angeles

It’s not every day you get hugged by a bear. And it’s practically never the bear of all bears—Smokey.
Working on the Smokey Bear Campaign is a wonderful experience. But helping it move forward in a new direction and seeing the seed of an idea (or the phrase “bearhug”) come to life stands out for me both professionally and personally.
From the second “bearhug” was thrown into the conversation, we knew we had a big idea, but we also knew we were dealing with a pro bono project. Normally a project like this could take months to prepare for and produce. We did it in 6 weeks.
We decided the best way to move Smokey Bear forward was to reference his past. We wanted to create the Smokey Bear people would feel nostalgic over. And we created him for real—an endeavor not many of us (if any) had proper experience with.
In fact, most of this streamlined process was completely new territory for me. Most of our creative conversations started and ended with: “I don’t know, what do you think?”
We needed real experts to help us and we did everything we could and contacted whoever we could to get this done. We even had Smokey Bear pen a book to send to directors as bait.
Luckily, a huge benefit that arose from working on such a symbolic campaign was the rare opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the most talented professionals in their fields. We worked with a top production house, directors, special effects artists, and animation experts. It was like taking a crash course in movie magic.
I’ll never forget when Smokey walked into the room for the first time. We fell silent. It wasn’t a guy in a suit. It was Smokey Bear right in front of us—like an animal in the wild. That’s when everything crystalized for me—my “this is really happening” moment.
But of course, the real bacon on top was actually bringing Smokey Bear to life with subtle special effects bringing out real emotions in his face and eyes. Even though I’ve seen these videos over and over, it still gets me every time.
To have created what we have in the time we had, has been amazing. Personally, I feel as if I’ve helped shape something that’s has been around for nearly 70 years, and could live on for another 70. The type of feeling that reminds me every day of why I love what I do.
So what is it like to be hugged by Smokey Bear? A little like being hugged by a really strong stuffed animal … who wears pine-scented deodorant.
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