"Bear", a television commercial known for and often referred to by its opening line "There is a bear in the woods", was created for the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign of Republican Party candidate Ronald Reagan. The commercial featured a grizzly bear wandering through a forest, accompanied by narration suggesting that the bear could be dangerous and that it would be wise to be prepared for that possibility. In the final scene, a man appears and the bear takes a step back. The ad ends with a picture of Reagan and the tagline: "President Reagan: Prepared for Peace."
Without directly mentioning opponent Walter Mondale, defense spending, or the Soviet Union (traditionally symbolized by a bear), the ad suggested that Reagan was better prepared to recognize and deal with threats to global stability. Research by award-winning pollster Richard Wirthlin detected the nation's overriding concern about the Soviet Union and how to communicate the solution through subtlety.
Details and full text of the narration
"There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear."
The ad was written and narrated by ad man Hal Riney, who also wrote and narrated Reagan's resonant "Morning in America" ad (titled "Prouder, Stronger, Better") as well as his "America's Back" ad. To many, his rich, avuncular voice represented wholesomeness and authenticity.
Initial focus group screenings of the advertisement demonstrated that the audience found its message ambiguous, with some interpreting it as an indictment of environmentalism, others as a criticism of gun control, but the underlying metaphor of "peace through strength" remained strong. The advertisement itself had a very high recall rate amongst viewers, even those who were uncertain of its meaning.
The ad won praise from the political and advertising world. Republican strategist Dan Schnur said of Riney's work: "Most political advertising hits viewers over the head, while his work makes just as strong a point but in a less confrontational and a more soothing manner."
"There is a bear in the woods" continues to be a popular phrase to invoke when a potential problem looms on the horizon, especially in political circles. The ad was copied in the 2004 presidential campaign of Republican George W. Bush in an ad called "Wolves," which sought to draw parallels between terrorists and timber wolves. However, that ad explicitly mentioned terrorism, opponent John Kerry, liberalism, intelligence spending, and "America's defenses." In September 2015, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz created an ad titled "Scorpion" with an opening line, "There's a Scorpion in the desert". In the ad Cruz used the image of a scorpion to show the threat Islamic terrorism posed to the United States. This ad was instantly recognized as a copy or an homage to Reagan's. Currently, the Washington Post's PowerPost email newsletter to subscribers, The Daily 202, often uses the phrase, "There still a bear in the woods," to introduce political topics.
Wirthlin's work on the first Reagan campaign, and particularly this ad, earned him the title "Adman of the Year" by Advertising Age and the Washington Post called Wirthlin the "Prince of Pollsters".
- "Reagan outlawing Russia". Xent.com. Retrieved 26 June 2022.
- Medvic, Stephen K. (2001). Political Consultants in U.S. Congressional Elections. Ohio: Ohio State University Press. pp. 48-49
- Just, Marion R. (1991). Should Campaign Commercials Be Regulated? No. In Rose, Gary L. (ed) Controversial Issues in Presidential Selection. New York: State University of New York Press. p. 145
- "Creating Reagan's image" - the story of how Hal Riney developed the ad campaign., Sfgate.com
- "Ted Cruz 'Scorpion' Ad Copies Reagan's Famous 'Bear' Commercial". Mediaite.com. 16 September 2015.
- Gabriel, Trip (15 September 2015). "Ted Cruz Ad Uses Scorpion to Depict Threat of Islamic Terror". The New York Times.
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- The Bear — video of the original advertisement on YouTube
- "If there is a wolf..." — comparison to Bush ad featuring wolves
- 'boards magazine: "Why political TV ads suck so hard" cites "Bear" and "Prouder, Stronger, Better" as examples of effective and significant ads in contrast to recent ads
- Weekly Standard: "Kerry Nation?" - Fred Barnes calls "Bear" "devastating... clever and amusing" and uses it as an example of how George W Bush could deal with John Kerry in the 2004 election