Teddy bears as mascots

24 October 2008
imports_CCGB_bearspromoteallkindso_70568.gif Bears promote all kinds of products
Here, we chart the rise in popularity of teddy as a mascot for charities, sporting events, and even politicians! ...
Teddy bears as mascots Images

The teddy bear’s status as a global icon has inevitably led to it being adopted as a mascot by many diverse organisations over the years.

The earliest recorded incidence of teddy mascotry occurred not long after the teddy’s invention when Theodore Roosevelt used it in his campaign to be re-elected as President of the USA.

A few of these early campaign teddies have survived and they are highly prized by collectors. In fact, such is their appeal to collectors that occasionally manufacturers and bear artists have a go at recreating them.

Back in 1904, having more than earned his keep by getting Roosevelt back into office, Teddy turned his substantial talents to promoting a variety of both charitable and commercial endeavours.  

The results have been impressive, with the teddy bear proving unbeatable as a figurehead, notching up considerable success representing wildly varied themes, including important sporting tournaments, historic European cities, and even a long-running campaign against forest fires.

The latter began in August 1944 when the US Co-operative Forest Fire Prevention Program launched a bear character called Smokey as its official mascot.

Forest fires are a constant concern but at the time, there was genuine alarm at the prospect of highly destructive fires being started by shells fired from Japanese submarines off the coast of California.

The concern was so strong that the US Government felt it necessary to start a campaign alerting the public to the danger.

Early in 1944 they used a poster featuring Walt Disney’s Bambi and his friends Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk.

Although the poster was a success, Bambi’s services had been on temporary loan from Disney so a permanent mascot was required.

smokey bear image The Forest Service duly set to work creating their very own character. After much brainstorming it was decided that a bear was the best possible choice, but in order to give him maximum appeal, the bear needed none of the latent ferocity of a real bear and thus Smokey was born.

Even on his very first poster he was depicted as round and cuddly, with big eyes and a gentle, intelligent expression – exactly like a teddy bear, in fact.

To further distance the new poster boy from any suggestion of animal fierceness, he was drawn wearing blue trousers, a hat and carrying a spade to help beat the flames of a forest fire. The transformation from bear to anthropomorphized teddy was complete. 

The success of the Smokey campaign is evidenced by the fact that today every child in America knows the ‘Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires’ catchphrase.

It would be possible to fill an entire museum with the various Smokey posters, books, toys and other bits of ephemera that have been produced over the years but of most interest to arctophiles are the various plush Smokey Bears that have been in constant production since the early 1950s.

Leading manufacturers, such as Ideal, Knickerbocker and Dakin, created their own versions, but one of the most interesting in recent years was the limited edition Smokey designed by leading US bear artist Beverly White for Cooperstown Bears.  

Olympic bear

The US is not the only country in which bears have been teddified by humans for use as mascots.

In the German capital of Berlin, which has been associated with the bear for over 700 years, the somewhat martial bear shown in profile on the city’s flag has been reinterpreted as a soft teddy wearing a crown and sash.

For decades, visitors to Berlin have been able to take these small mascots home as souvenirs of their visit.

Mostly the bears are of the cheap and cheerful variety, but there are some exceptions. Schreyer & Co, the German manufacturer better known as Schuco, made tiny jointed Berliner Bears that are very collectable today, and Steiff has produced some very fine examples, including a brown mohair bear with jointed arms and legs, which it made from 1993 to 1994.

There are other European cities that have historic associations with the bear, such as Berne in Switzerland and Bruges in Belgium, and they also make good use of teddies
as souvenirs.

Nowadays every major sporting event boasts an official mascot to represent the spirit of the occasion and, more cynically, to generate income from sales of licensed merchandise.

This year’s Beijing Olympics had five mascots representing the five rings of the Olympic emblem, but when the Games went to Moscow in 1980, the Soviet Union was content to have just one official mascot.

They chose a bear called Misha, an unsurprising choice since Russia has been called ‘The Bear’ by the rest of the world for centuries, and Misha is a traditional Russian nickname for a bear.

The Olympic Misha was developed by Victor Chizikov, a children’s illustrator, who laboured over the project for six months until he had perfected his design of a smiling, teddy-ish bear wearing a belt comprising the five interlocking Olympic rings.

It was worth the effort – Misha was produced in plush, ceramic, plastic, wood, glass and metal, and became the most successful sporting mascot ever in commercial terms.
The ‘Fuwa’ – the name given to the five Chinese mascots – will be lucky if they come even close to rivalling his success.   
Misha is remembered today, some 28 years after his moment in the spotlight, but although they are a delightful concept, will the Fuwa even be remembered when the Olympic Games come to London in 2012?

All the mascot teddies featured so far originated as bears but evolved into teddies in order to achieve a wider appeal.

However, they all retain certain bear-like features which remind people of their origins, as a heraldic symbol in the case of the Berlin Bear or, as with Smokey, as a real animal facing the potential danger of forest fires.

In these cases a touch of realism, however limited, is appropriate, but this is not the case when it comes to creating a teddy mascot from imagination specifically to front a particular charity.

pudset bear image Thus, when the BBC asked designer Joanna Ball to come up with a teddy bear to be the official logo of its Children in Need charity, she could blithely ignore genuine ursine characteristics in preference for something with more jolly, child-friendly appeal.

Her creation, Pudsey Bear – named after her home town of Pudsey in Yorkshire – is a bright, sunshine yellow. He wears a white and red spotted bandage over one eye to imply fellow cause with the children he represents, but his big smile makes it clear that the bandage isn’t causing him any unhappiness.

Pudsey was launched during the 1985 Children in Need telethon and has subsequently featured on every successive annual show.

His image adorns everything from mugs to mobile phone covers and literally dozens of other items.

A true teddy hero, Pudsey turns up at Children in Need fundraisers the length and breadth of the UK, raising spirits and generating millions of pounds for his charity through the sales of Pudsey merchandise.

The simple truth is that no other toy comes close to rivalling the teddy bear’s ubiquity as a figurehead, and it’s not hard to understand why marketing honchos return to it again and again.

Transcending gender barriers, the teddy bear instantly evokes comfort and security, and is endlessly versatile, altering its appearance to look fresh and distinctive with each new interpretation. No wonder Teddy is the world’s favourite mascot.

This article was first published in the November 2008 issue of Collect It! - the only monthly magazine for collectors.

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