Thirty-five years ago, the iconic slogan "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas" was born. Campaign figured that was as good a reason as any to search out the UK’s best-ever dog ad.
Clarissa Baldwin, the chief executive at Dogs Trust, created the charity’s famous phrase. In October 1978, she was working as the head of PR for the body (then called the National Canine Defence League) when she was asked to design a (cheap) campaign to stop people buying and then abandoning puppies. Sat at the kitchen table, she wrote down five or six suggestions, one of which was the enduring slogan.
Since then, "a dog is for life…" has been pilfered and bastardised to help shift everything from bags to sex toys, and Dogs Trust estimates that around three million cars display its stickers.
Indeed, it is impossible to quantify the British public’s enthusiasm for dogs, which explains why the animals have been used in ads for almost every product under the sun. Some brands – such as Andrex and Dulux – are inseparable from their canine mascots.
But which ad featuring man’s best friend holds a special place in the nation’s heart? First, only ads shown in the UK would qualify for the poll and cartoon/CGI mutts were disqualified. Next, Campaign created a shortlist of ten spots. The final decision was put to a vote, and people voted in their droves. So here’s the pick of the pooches.
1 Andrex ‘puppy’
Andrex’s iconic puppy went largely ignored for the first few days of the poll but then stormed into the lead, finishing with 37.26 per cent of the vote. Wikipedia would have you believe that it was created by a marketing director at Andrex’s parent company, but a JWT source claims the inspiration came from a "wild, Cornish art director" called Michael Johnson who went home with some toilet paper and filmed his own puppy. The rest is advertising history.
2 Thinkbox ‘Harvey and Rabbit’
Agency The Red Brick Road
Creatives Mark Slack, Gemma Phillips
Directors Si & Ad
Harvey and Rabbit stormed into an early lead but ended up settling for second place, with 25.48 per cent of the vote. The ad is a perfect mixture of funny and sweet, and is lifted by a charmingly childlike jingle from the comedian Adam Buxton. It was also Baldwin’s favourite on the list, and she knows a thing or two about marketing and dogs.
3 O2 ‘be more dog’
Creatives Nathaniel White, Ben Daly
Director Keith Schofield
The newest campaign on the list, "be more dog" appears to have already wormed its way into people’s hearts, earning 10.51 per cent of the vote. Of course, the star of the ad is actually a CGI dog/cat hybrid, but plenty of pooches appear in the background and the whole concept of the campaign is to get people to be more dog-like, so it more than qualifies.
4 Wall’s sausages ‘talking dog’
It was a respectable showing for Wall’s, with 7.96 per cent of the vote. Taking its cue from an episode of That’s Life in which an owner claimed his dog could say "sausages" (we’ve watched it – it can’t), McCann-Erickson came up with the idea for a dog that could only say "Wall’s". The campaign still feels fresh today – the mark of a true great – and even spawned a reboot in 2011 with a miniature talking dog that more than held its own.
5 Volkswagen Polo ‘confidence’
Agency DDB London
Director Noam Murro
Volkswagen and DDB scored a solid, mid-table ranking with the "confidence" ad, which took 5.41 per cent of the vote. But it could have been so much worse. Despite getting one million hits on YouTube, the ad was pulled from TV after the Advertising Standards Authority and the RSPCA received 500 complaints from people concerned that a dog had been mistreated. The RSPCA found that no dogs were harmed.
6 John Smith’s ‘dog tricks’
Creative John Webster
Director Ian McMilan
The original John Smith’s campaigns were orchestrated by John Webster, who also created the Smash Martians and The Guardian’s "points of view" spot – considered two of the greatest UK ads of all time. It’s a shock, then, to see "dog tricks" relatively low down on the list, with just 4.46 per cent of the vote. Still, there’s no doubting that the ad did its job at the time.
7 Frank ‘Pablo the drug mule’
Directors Pier Van Tijn, Johnny Burns
You can’t help but feel that Mother has been hard done by. The ad for Frank aimed to educate the masses on the harm caused by the drug trade, and Mother found a novel way to do it. But, regardless of its craft, a spot showing a dog that has been hollowed out for the purpose of smuggling cocaine is never going to be a vote-winner. Joint seventh with 2.87 per cent of the vote.
7 John Smith’s ‘dog show’
Director Danny Kleinman
John Smith’s "dog show" spot got 2.87 per cent of the vote, putting it joint seventh. You might argue that the brand’s advertising lost some of its lustre since the BMP days, but the comedian Peter Kay’s other turn for the ale, "’ave it", was as good as what went before it.
9 Dulux ‘My Way’
Agency BMP DDB Needham
Director Jeff Stark
Not a strong performance by Dulux. The "My Way" spot was the most memorable of all the Dulux campaigns, but it only mustered 2.07 per cent of the vote. Still, Dulux can be consoled by the fact that many people in England and Australia (where the campaign was first launched) still call Old English Sheepdogs "Dulux dogs" because of the association with the commercials. Now, that’s branding.
10 Hamlet ‘puppy’
Agency Collett Dickenson Pearce
Writer Jeremy Clarke
Art director Graham Fink
It probably speaks more about the strength of the list than anything else that a classic such as Hamlet’s "puppy" spot resides at the bottom with just 1.11 per cent of the vote. Its position at the foot of the list does provide symmetry, however, since it spoofs the Andrex ad that sits at the top.