Alfred Hitchcock famously asserted that actors should be treated like cattle but this week we're going to look at the opposite: when cattle are treated like actors, more specifically, the use of animals in advertising.
The current Trustpower ad featuring a three-legged dog called Blue didn't seem particularly exceptional to me, but our tripod hero is allegedly polling second in the most preferred Prime Minister stakes. This is patently ridiculous as I'm pretty sure that Blue would stroll in. Albeit it a slightly wobbly stroll.
Why use animals?
Animals are often used over people because:
• They're cheaper.
• They're more fun to have on set. (There are exceptions. See skunks and piranhas.)
• People identify with them better. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but if you cast a human in an ad, consumers will say: "That person is nothing like me, what were those stupid advertisers thinking?" Whereas if you use an aardvark, consumers will say: "Oh, what a cute aardvark, I can really identify with that!"
• Cute animals also help us forget that Trustpower was fined $390,000 in 2016 for misleading consumers about their bundling deal.
The mediocre advertising creative will often lean on animals to drag their ad out of the humdrum, but which one is right for you? Here are some thoughts from my personal experience of campaigns using critters.
The Gold Standard in advertising: easy to train (remember the dogs driving cars?), fun to work with and great with toilet paper. Famous dogs include Spot from Telecom, Wilson from Lotto, and George Junior from several print and TV campaigns. (Yes, I know, George was my dog, but what a talent ...)
A poor man's dog: hard to train, sulky, prima-donnas who tend to get a bit scratchy. If you absolutely have to use a cat, use a big one as below.
Easy to train when hungry, but lazy buggers the rest of the time. Watching on set as a trainer poked a lion on the bottom to try and make him do something interesting was a nervous moment.
Similar to lions only better looking. I asked our leopard trainer (Doc Antle, who subsequently appeared in the Tiger King doco) whether it was cruel keeping his animals enclosed, albeit in big spaces. Doc believed that the life of any animal in the wild was often unpleasant and dangerous whereas his animals were well fed, had full medical attention and had experiences which their relatives in the wild never would. Like learning to use toilet paper.
Clumsy and monochromatic, but never forget their lines.
Automatically funny owing to waddle and silly beak, they can quack on command, the only problem is then getting them to shut up. They make a great duck a l'orange if things aren't working out.
Their sinister look combined with a limited acting range means they are usually cast as baddies. Surprisingly easy to handle on set as they can be instantly calmed by placing a wet towel over their eyes. (This technique is probably worth trying on your kids.)
Very hard to work with. Just about everything that moves eats them, which makes them paranoid and rather skittish. It's generally easier to paint stripes on a horse.
Everyone loves their shiny red bum but the baboon's propensity to rip the head off anyone who "looks at them a bit wrong" limits their use.
Excellent comedy animals, but their propensity to roll into a ball whenever stressed limits their usefulness. We borrowed the only stuffed one in the UK and glued it to a skateboard for movement. All went well until Harry Enfield trod on it.
Gentle giants, but things can go south quickly if they don't get their way. You're better off putting an actor in a gorilla suit.
A tricky bunch. Hard to train, demanding, frequently unattractive and inclined to be a little moany on set. Their main advantage over animals is that they're unlikely to actually pee on the cameraman, although there are exceptions.
• Paul Catmur worked in advertising at a quite good level across New Zealand, the UK and Australia including co-founding an agency in Auckland. This is a series of articles about how to make the best out of maybe not being the best.