Dogs as Avatars that Humanize Advertising

Who can’t associate with the pure pleasure of a day at the spa – even if that satisfied smile is on the face of a dog.

Who can’t associate with the pure pleasure of a day at the spa – even if that satisfied smile is on the face of a dog.

Dogs are man’s best friend – and evidently mankind’s most favorite advertising meme.

Dogs appear in all kinds of ads for cars, beer, camping, eyewear, clothes,  junk food and even magazines. And that doesn’t count ads about dog food, dog adoption and service dogs.

Dogs dominate advertising because they are cute, expressive and cheaper than real actors. They have been and continue to be advertising mainstays because people have a preternatural bond with dogs.

In today’s world, work dogs are less likely to pull wagons than pull on our heartstrings.

Dogs dominate advertising for everything from cars to eyewear because people trust dogs more than most spokespersons.

Dogs dominate advertising for everything from cars to eyewear because people trust dogs more than most spokespersons.

As human segmentation has become more byzantine, advertisers can still divide the world’s buyer personas into dog lovers and cat people. Dog people are by far and way in the majority. When that majority sees cavorting canines, they turn into consumer mush. That’s why you see so many dogs in ads.

Some ads are subtle. A dog is part of the domestic support system for a woman undergoing chemotherapy at home with Neulasta. Subaru has a “Dog Tested. Dog Approved” campaign to sell sports SUVs. There are ads with wisecracking dogs, dogs that drive, dogs trying to lose weight and dogs that steal Doritos from little kids. Dogs are avatars for people and co-pilots for consumers. Ironically, dogs humanize ad pitches.

While infatuated with their own furry companion, dog lovers are polygamous in their adoration of other pups  – in person and online. Beggin’ Strips, the dog face for a bacon-flavored pet treat of the same name, has more than 1 million Facebook fans.

Have we succumbed to Planet of the Dogs or is there some more practical meaning to all this? The most useful lesson to learn is that dogs evoke emotions, and emotions sell. When a dog looks soulfully into a camera, it mirrors the emotional connection you have when your own pup stares up at you. Dog is familiar and family.

In our age of distrust, most of us trust dogs more than commercial spokespersons (except for George Clooney, whom you never see with a dog in his commercials.) We also believe dogs reflect our own moods. When our dogs hide a bone in the backyard, it reminds us of the past due bill we haven’t paid. We believe dogs smile at us and their unbridled, tail-wagging excitement at the smallest things stirs some long-lost excitement in us, too.

Shamelessly trading on a canine has limits, but based on the number of ads with dogs as central characters or with cameo appearances, there aren't many limits. Creating an emotional bond is the path to consumer heartstrings, which often lead to their purse strings.