The Ad Council found its relaunch of Smokey Bear hampered by an unexpected freeloader last week, as newcomer Reddy Squirrel rode Smokey's coattails to national exposure.
Reddy, the creation of a dissident group of Forest Service employees, boasts a message sharply divergent from Smokey Bear's iconic "Only you can prevent wildfires." To the contrary, says Reddy, "No one can prevent wildfires. Be ready."
Reddy, who began appearing on the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) website last week, drew mentions in much of the coverage of the Smokey repositioning, after an AP reporter friendly with the group tied the two together. The character, designed to guide homeowners living near wild areas in making their lands safer from fires, gave voice to some Western newspapers' frustration with the Forest Service's longstanding policy of fire suppression, which it now acknowledges has contributed to the blazes razing the West. Other outlets mistakenly reported that the Forest Service was replacing Smokey with Reddy.
Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch sounded none too pleased, but pleaded nonchalance. "Smokey Bear and Reddy Squirrel have two different messages," said Valetkevitch, adding that she doesn't think the subversive squirrel "could compete with Smokey."
The FSEEE, which claims 500 members in the Forest Service and 12,000 citizen members, opposes what it sees as agency collusion with the timber industry and land-use movement.
FSEEE paid only $25 - the cost of the Reddy artwork - for the exposure.
The group plans to run radio ads featuring Reddy, in addition to using the character on its website and in its internal magazine.
FSEEE executive director Andy Stahl said he is now seeking a celebrity voice for the squirrel. "She needs a 'Grrl power' voice," said Stahl. "We're seeking a voice with a name."