In 1968, the Toronto Transit Commission unleashed Barney Beaver, its children’s safety mascot, on an unsuspecting population. The giant dark brown castor with its two massive pearl incisors was meant to educate the kids of Toronto about staying safe on transit, which it did just fine – it’s just shame Barney almost always looked like a terrifying monster on film.
The black and white pictures of Barney cast him as a shaggy silhouette with only a pair of bright eyes and teeth. His outsize TTC driver’s hat was his only piece of clothing.
As a woman who has seen every type of beaver costume, ornament and virtually every toy beaver from fluffy shapes that look like otters to beavers that look like bears, I have to say that is one dam scary looking beaver. He looks positively menacing. His safety advice seems a little sinister too. Just check out the grim lyrics to his jingle.Sit well back With your feet beneath Or a sudden stop could Wreck your teeth Keep your arm in Head in too Or that could be The end of you!
“Nice little 1st grader you got here. Shame if some thing would happen to it.” Am I wrong? I imagine the campaign was fairly successful, as Canadian children lived in terror of losing their limbs in a transit accident. They really made sure children got the message:
Barney Beaver had a year-round tour schedule with stops at Toronto schools. The creature and his support staff traveled in one of several city buses that doubled as a mobile classroom. Inside, kids watched as Barney and TTC staff performed pratfalls, swung from the bars, and gracelessly fell to the floor as the bus lurched into motion, in short illustrating how not to be a straphanger.
When I was a child, the repetitive classroom warning that always carried the most mysterious weight was the dire warning pamphlets we received titled “Stay Away from the Canal!“. The cover always showed some child slipping down a horrible concrete precipice. I had never seen a canal. I didn’t know what one was. There are no canals located within 15 miles of where I grew up. But I was terrified of them. To this day I can’t even say the word ‘canal’ without hearing the looming ‘stayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy awayyyyyy’ in the background. I’m going to guess that this was just after the time Northern California signed a deal to give away all our fresh water to Los Angeles, and part of the trade was they paid for the safety campaign. Never mind that there were plenty of train tracks and buses to keep an eye on. The canal campaign was paid for.
Smokey the bear campaign was created in 1944 and remains a powerful reminder of personal responsibility and care for the environment. It is the longest running ad campaign the parks department has ever used. And I’m not biased because I’m not Canadian.Look for yourself – which do you find more persuasive?
Oh, and by the way, the most wildly successful public safety campaign was definitively creative in Australia and stared neither bears or beavers. It should become the industry standard because its catchy, memorable, and needs to pay for zero air time as it gets people to download and watch it again and again.