Grin and Bear It: Ursine Images Have Become Ubiquitous in Advertising Campaigns and Elsewhere. (Media)

Article excerpt

Polar bears, oh so cute and fuzzy, top all photo requests at the National Geographic Society. "They resonate with individuals," says Maura Mulvihill, vice president of image collection.

German photographer Norbert Rosing's depiction of a polar-bear cub asleep atop its snoozing mom has been snapped up by 20 clients, including two opposing entities. One is the National Resources Defense Council, which used the image on postcards to raise money to lobby against the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. The other is Phillips 66, which produces crude oil and natural gas on the North Slope. Its ad copy beneath the sleeping bear and cub philosophizes: "Anyone can get oil out of the North Slope. The trick is to leave everything else."

That "else" includes polar-bear dens, says Ron Stanley, corporate ad manager for Phillips 66. His company's infrared technology helps it spot bear dens in the tundra and avoid them. "We got 10 times more reaction on that ad than any I've worked on for the past five years," he says. "Bears in general are considered cute and interesting. They represent strength and are an endearing species."

But Bob Ferris, whose Defenders of Wildlife organization uses a polar bear-and-cub photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to publicize its environmental stance, differs with Phillips 66. "The problem is their infrared technology doesn't always work," he says. "It's not as clean and easy as they've led people to believe."

Polar bears, possibly the perfect symbol for the 2000s, are at once exotic and familiar, maternal and majestic. …