Man's best friend
by Thomas Wagner | Jan 4, 2012
Audi A4 Winter

It truly is a dog's life. It's an old chestnut to say that a dog is a man's best friend. But that's not all: advertisers love him too. How else can the frequency with which dogs crop up in commercials be explained? Is it that they awaken emotions, something akin to a protective instinct? Of course. And they're likewise part of the family, even if the latter example, if we think it through, consists solely of a travel bag, hair dryer and a pair of sunglasses. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

While dogs can do many things, we are told, our technology outstrips them. The (under)dog feels embarrassed, defeated. At least, this is the case in the advertising agency BTS United's 2007 spot produced for Norway – known for its copious snow in winter. But things only really get interesting when you view the summer version. As we'd already assumed, the "Audi A4 Quattro" hugs the curves better in the snow than can the dog, but this is not main source of pleasure and psychological interest in both commercials. This comes instead from how the dog reacts in the second one. The painful lesson he learned that winter he has forgotten the following summer. What, so the creature exerts itself in vain, you say? Hardly. The dog is smart, he's learned his lesson. When it comes to an opponent who cannot be matched, against whom one has not a chance in terms of traction, well, just look the other way. A smart dark might at most growl as defeats are as unpleasant as the knowledge that you're going to be stuck with it.

Citroën, on the other hand, is all about families. After all, we're dealing with a family car here: the "C3 Picasso". A setting in which animals always look good. Leaving aside what Pablo Picasso would have said about the car, the 2010 commercial produced for France by H Suresnes hinges on the proposition that everything which belongs in the family will fit into the car. It's really very simple: "Don't leave the things you love behind." To which end, you need the correct transport. Yet what springs into the trunk and joyfully romps around is not a dog at all. It is a hybrid, an admittedly cute, cheerful creation patched together from a travel bag, a pair each of men's and women's shoes and a hair dryer sporting sunglasses for a head. And there's only one thing this doggy double desires: to play. And never to be alone. In short, to have a family – and a "C3 Picasso"?

Even in the Washington's Lottery commercial, produced in 2009 by Cole & Weber for the United States, it's hard to tell if, while the dog is man's best friend, man isn't just thinking first and foremost of himself. Sure, the lottery-winning man now has a lot of free time and he uses it to build a machine that throws Frisbees for his dog on the beach. But was this really for the dog? Couldn't the man throw his best friend the Frisbee himself? "Watch your dream"? You have to ask yourself what fantasies of engineering men really have.

Now a further something to speak to the heart – or perhaps to the clichés? See for yourself how the boys allegedly do things and how the girls supposedly respond. Puppies are especially adorable; to love them is to be loved oneself. It's as simple as that. "Where did you get her? " "I rescued her from a cellar!" "Really? You did that?" Aren't they all just darling? But in all honesty, this 2009 conception of Bbdo from Chicago for the United States is (while amusing) not meant to be taken seriously. Still, the play on gender roles and whiskey ends on a somewhat tired note: "Guys never change – Neither do we." Well then – cheers! Don't forget to return the pups.

Finally there's the lonely Tramp going that extra mile to please his beloved. A sincerely heart-warming story of a little mongrel and an endeavor that never lets up. There's nothing this mutt won't drag home to impress his sweetheart and bring her beautiful things. And all this to advertise an investment company? This story, produced by The Gate Worldwide in 2009 for Spdr Exchange Traded Funds in the US, is perfectly put together, right up to the choice of music. Still – is love really nothing more than committing the investment? Or are those of us who consider that merely a matter of capitalist cunning simply out of date?

To finish, here's one more outlandish pick from Brazil, shot in 2008 by Almap/bbdo for Volkswagen – to be precise, for the "VW Spacefox", not sold over here. Perhaps there is some form of cultural context that Europeans don't understand, but a half-dog half-fish? Can that really be funny? Do we reveal ourselves as stereotypically German killjoys if we find it monstrous? Not that we missed the point: at the end of the commercial, we see the dog in its normal shape and form sitting in the car, and what we have witnessed was simply an allegory of the joy and happiness of a dog who loves swimming in the water and bouncing on the beach. But after all is said and done, isn't this "dogfish" just a hideous mutant?

Audi A4 Winter
Audi A4 Summer
Citroen C3 Picasso ''La Spacebox''
Washington Lottery
Jim Beam Puppy
SPDR Tramp
VW Dog-Fish