Lately, beer, car and fast-food advertising has gone to the dogs
While Democrats and Republicans bicker over the best way to stimulate the economy, there is one group that is going all out to boost consumer spending. I’m talking about the puppies.
Everywhere you look, it seems that the way to shill products ranging from Budweiser to Subarus is by sticking a cute dog in the ad. Dogs have replaced that great American standby—the female body—as the go-to image for pimping a product to the public.
Not long ago it seemed that if you wanted to sell a car, you put a picture of it next to a well-rounded bosom, and soon all manner of clunkers new and used were rolling off the lot. With enough cleavage in the promo you might even be able to sell a Hyundai.
Not necessarily so, according to Ed Russell, associate professor of advertising in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The use of scantily clad women in advertising “can have as many negative repercussions. Any time you see that kind of thing now, it’s usually highly targeted. To reach a mass audience, you’re much more likely to see something non-offensive.”
High on the list of non-offensive mascots: kids and dogs. It seems the old adage “sex sells” has gone to the dogs.
Beer companies once competed for our loyalty by flashing the flesh, whetting our whistle with a promise that in real life only beer goggles can deliver. Not that the Coors twins have gone into retirement, but the advertising gods seem to think that Americans are just as likely to set that cash register jingling to a pair of Pomeranians.
Have you seen that Bud Light ad with the Bassett hound leaping off the diving board trying to catch a beer bottle in full flight? A party, a pool and not a bikini in sight.
Then there’s the date-night commercial in which the couple returns to the woman’s apartment to be greeted by Rufus, her Dalmatian, who performs a trick—joining his owner in howling about how much they love their Ally Bank.
What’s behind this fascination with canines? “It works,” says Russell. “You put a dog in your commercial and scores go up.” Russell has worked for three major international ad agencies in both Europe and the United States, including J. Walter Thompson. “Over my career I’ve tested hundreds of commercials and I remember many times we look at it and say ‘look at that.’ People remember it better and pay more attention when there’s a dog in the ad.”
Russell, who lives on the edge of Manlius with his family and 4-year-old Golden Retriever Lucy, adds that the current canine craze is time-limited. “These things come and go,” he says. “No one ever sat around and said, ‘Let’s try a pug in this ad,’ but every now and then they come out with something and it’s incredibly popular. Then it’s on to the latest big thing, because after a while you can’t put in a pug or else you’re selling Doritos.”
Said Doritos commercial featuring a pug knocking down a glass door and a goofy boyfriend to get at a bag of chips was a bigger hit than Ben Roethlisberger at this year’s Super Bowl. (For the record, Russell grew up with a pug.)
Bud Light’s own animal history bears out Russell’s point. In 1987 their Super Bowl ad introduced the nation to Spuds Mackenzie, a hard-partying white English bull terrier. Bud Light and Spuds parted ways a few years later, but this year Bud Light went back to the well with its dog-sitting commercial, featuring a collection of canines catering a party, carrying trays of beer bottles, sweeping up and even doing the dishes, not only making many post-Super Bowl party wives envious, but apparently boosting Bud Light’s numbers.
The idea, according to Russell, is to make the viewer remember. Who could forget Gidget, the late 1990s bilingual Taco Bell Chihuahua who roamed all over Los Angeles in search of the perfect burrito? Why a company would want its fast-food product portrayed as dog food on national television was beside the point—that point is that the dogs stick in our mind and make us feel good about the brand. That’s thinking outside the bun.
Subaru has done more than most car companies to hone in on the dog-owner market.
Some of their promotions would have you believe that the dog is the family member writing the check and making the monthly payments.
Subaru runs ads with dogs driving their wagons and SUVs, and their salespeople integrate puppy-friendly comments into their sales talk, all in service of the motto, “Dog Tested, Dog Approved. Love.”
And we all know how dogs show their love for cars.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at edgriffin@twcny. rr.com.