CLOSE

6 Famous Advertising Dogs

Gidget the Chihuahua, the famed Taco Bell mascot from 1997 to 2000, died of a stroke last week at the age of 15. While she settles in for a never-ending fifth meal at the 24-hour Taco Bell in doggie heaven, here's a look back at six other famous dogs in advertising.

1. Lady Greyhound

The Greyhound Corporation and running dog logo date back to 1930, but it was the introduction of a live mascot nearly 30 years later that helped establish the bus line as one of the leaders of the transportation industry pack. The company introduced "Lady Greyhound," a purebred Greyhound born in Clay Center, Kansas, on The Steve Allen Show in 1957. The white and gold dog with black eyes was just a 10-pound puppy at the time, but she would soon become the face of the franchise. By 1959, "Lady Greyhound," who often wore a rhinestone collar and tiara, had traveled across the country more than 50 times, making appearances at charity events along the way. She opened the new Greyhound terminal in Detroit by biting through a ribbon of dog biscuits, she posed for photos with Miss Universe Beauty Pageant contestants, and she was a regular guest on television shows throughout the country. The popularity of Lady Greyhound had waned by the early 1970s, but there's no denying the mark she left on the company.

2. Spuds Mackenzie

guru-timesSpuds Mackenzie, a white English bull terrier with a black mark around her left eye, was introduced as the mascot for Anheuser-Busch during a 1987 Super Bowl ad. (Though the Spuds Mackenzie character was most definitely supposed to be a male, the dog in the commercials was actually a female named Honey Tree Evil Eye. Scandal!) For the next 2 years, the "ultimate party animal," whose voiceover was provided by Robin Leach, lived the high life. In a series of wildly successful commercials, Spuds traveled the world with three beautiful Spudettes as the canine predecessor to Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World. One night Spuds was pole vaulting, the next he was playing the piano. Anheuser-Busch capitalized on Spuds' popularity by selling t-shirts, beach towels, and other merchandise bearing the dog's likeness. The campaign's success concerned some public interest groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who believed Spuds was being used to market alcohol to kids. Anheuser-Busch dumped the dog in 1989 when it debuted the Bud Bowl. Honey Tree Evil Eye died of kidney failure in 1993.

3. Nipper

RCA-nipperNipper, a terrier who allegedly got his name because he would bite the legs of visitors, lived a rather uneventful life in England from 1884-1895. Today, he's one of the most iconic dogs in the history of advertising. Three years after Nipper's death, his owner, English painter Francis Barraud, painted a picture of Nipper staring into a phonograph machine and titled it, "His Master's Voice." Barraud shopped the painting to the Edison Bell Company, one of the leading manufacturers of phonographs at the time, but was turned down. The Gramophone Company agreed to buy the image if Barraud was willing to alter the image to resemble one of its machines. Barraud happily agreed, the image was patented in 1900 and Nipper was celebrated posthumously in advertisements beginning in 1901. Since then, Nipper has been used to promote products for several companies, including Victor and RCA.

In 1990, RCA introduced a 2-month old puppy, Chipper, who has appeared alongside Nipper in various advertising campaigns for the brand since then.

4. Axelrod

axelrod
When it comes to your car, leave the worrying to Axelrod, the long-faced basset hound in the A-shaped doghouse. That was the gist of Flying A's advertising campaign during the 1960s, which starred the perpetually worried-looking hound pictured here. Axelrod, who lived in the "house that worry built," starred in several television and print ads for Flying A, a national service station business owned by Tidewater Petroleum. When Tidewater Petroleum's stations were purchased by Phillips 66 and Getty in 1966, Axelrod was retired.

5. Bullseye

bullseyeSince 1999, a white bull terrier with a target painted over his or her left eye "“ or is that a birthmark? "“ has served as Bullseye, the mascot for Target stores. One of the most recent Target dogs is owned by David McMillan, founder of Worldwide Movie Animals, a company that specializes in training animals for use in movies and commercials. Bullseye travels with her own makeup artist, who applies the target using nontoxic red paint, and trainer, and makes about two dozen appearances each year. When she's not in the spotlight, Bullseye lives a fairly normal life. "She has about 20 playmates that she runs around with," McMillan told the Anchorage Daily News during Bullseye's guest appearance at the 2008 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. "Otherwise, she's just a dog. She does a lot of lying around."

6. Ubu Roi

If you watched Family Ties, Brooklyn Bridge or Spin City and didn't change the channel immediately after the last line of every episode, you're probably familiar with Ubu Roi. The black labrador retriever is the mascot for Gary David Goldberg's production company, Ubu Productions, Inc. At the end of Goldberg's aforementioned shows, a photograph of Ubu Roi holding a Frisbee appears. Off-screen, Goldberg says, "Sit, Ubu, sit!" and "Good dog!" before Ubu responds with a single bark. Ubu Roi, who is named after the 1896 satirical play by Alfred Jarry, died in 1984. Goldberg's autobiography is titled, Sit, Ubu, Sit.

twitterbanner.jpg

nextArticle.image_alt|e
YouTube
arrow
Lists
10 Dangerous Toys from Decades Past (and the Commercials That Sold Them)
YouTube
YouTube

Baby Boomers are a hardy bunch. They rode in cars that weren’t equipped with special toddler seats, walked to and from school without being electronically tethered to their parents, ate lunches filled with allergens and preservatives, played with toys that would be quickly pulled from shelves today, and still persevered to become the largest living generation of the U.S. population. Whether you owned a Johnny Seven One Man Army or just want to know more about the ultra-violent, bestselling toy of 1964, let's take a look back at some of the dangerous toys of yesteryear and the commercials that sold them.

1. SIXFINGER

My younger brother had one of these, and I’m here to tell you that as tiny as it was, this gun had some serious firepower—those little plastic bullets hurt like heck! (You think your average seven-year-old boy is going to pay attention to the package disclaimer that warned against aiming the Sixfinger at human targets?) Just in case the possibility of losing an eye to a sharp projectile wasn’t edgy enough, one of the “bullets” came equipped with a cap—the shock-sensitive exploding variety. All this mayhem was available for the bargain price of two dollars.

2. SWING WING

The Transogram Company had been producing mainstream toys such as Tiddlywinks and doctor's kits since 1959. Then one day in 1965 the vice president of product development, whose brother-in-law was apparently an out-of-work chiropractor, came up with the idea for the Swing Wing. Nothing says “fun” like a cerebral hemorrhage, so Swing Wing was eventually pulled from the market, leaving kids searching for a new fun way to get their spinal injuries on.

3. SLIP 'N SLIDE

Wham-O introduced the Slip ‘N Slide in 1961, a time when neighborhood swimming pools were few and far between and water slide theme parks were nonexistent. The idea was to cool off and have fun at the same time by running up to and then belly-flopping down on a water-slicked strip of vinyl. Wham-O sold millions of Slip 'N Slides over the years, and if a kid broke a toe on one of the stakes that secured the mat to the ground or left most of their epidermis on the driveway because they slid too far, well, as Mom always said, “It’s your own fault, don’t come crying to me.” It wasn’t until the more litigious 1990s that words like “spinal cord injury” and “death” started appearing in the lengthy list of warnings included on the Slip ‘N Slide instruction sheet.

4. WATER WIGGLE

It looked innocent enough, but if your neighborhood had good water pressure and some joker turned the hose on full blast, Wham-O’s Water Wiggle turned into a semi-lethal weapon. It danced and bobbed erratically, and could wrap around you like a boa constrictor. And that plastic head was heavy! But bloody noses and chipped teeth were a small price to pay for some summertime fun.

5. JOHNNY SEVEN ONE MAN ARMY

No wonder kids today get into so much trouble—it’s those consarned video games they’re always playing. Nothing but shooting and street fighting and an overall culture of violence. Not like the toys of the 1960s. Back then we had wholesome products like the Johnny Seven One Man Army, which was the biggest-selling toy for boys in 1964. Johnny Seven came equipped with a cap pistol, rocket launcher, and “armor piercing” bullets, along with a few other features necessary for stopping Communism dead in its tracks.

Johnny Seven weighed about four pounds fully assembled, so a kid got a good aerobic workout when he ran around toting one outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Topper Toys used a unique tactic to give Johnny Seven maximum exposure: instead of only stocking it in toy and department stores, they also made it available in grocery stores, a place mom usually dragged her kids to at least once per week.

6. CREEPY CRAWLERS

An exposed hot plate combined with potentially toxic fumes equaled fun in 1964. The Thing Maker was a gadget you plugged in and then waited until it heated up to 300°F. Then you poured “Plasti-Goop” into the creepy insect-shaped metal molds and waited for them to heat-set. Ideally, you were supposed to wait until after you’d unplugged the Thing Maker and it had cooled off before removing your Creepy Crawlers, but who has time for that when you want to put a fake spider in your sister’s bed before she turns in? Burns and blisters were a fact of life in the plastic bug business, and you simply sprayed the injury with some Bactine and hid it from Mom so she wouldn’t take your Thing Maker away. Plasti-Goop was marketed as “non-toxic,” but that was in 1964 before the dangers of little things like melted PVC and lead paint were generally known.

7. WHAM-O AIR BLASTER

Wham-O introduced the Air Blaster gun in 1965 ... then pulled it from shelves not too long afterward. It turned out that some kids weren’t content to just blow out birthday candles long-distance; they were pointing their Air Blaster right against their friends’ ears to “see what happened.” (Permanent damage was the answer.) Those same pranksters also discovered that any object that could fit into the muzzle could also be shot with missile-like force. You know what they say, it’s all fun and games until someone figures out how to use their Air Blaster as a flamethrower.

8. WHAM-O WHEELIE BAR

The lack of protective helmets in this commercial is understandable, since they weren’t readily available at the time. But barefoot kids popping wheelies, riding no-handed, and performing daredevil stunts like standing on the seat? One has to wonder whether Wham-O held stock in some urgent care clinic chain.

9. SUPER ELASTIC BUBBLE PLASTIC

Surprise! We have yet another entry from those folks at Wham-O. This time the fun was contained inside a metal toothpaste-like tube filled with a colorful liquid-y plastic-y substance. You squeezed out a tiny glob of the stuff, rolled it into a tiny ball, and then plopped it onto the end of a plastic straw, which was included. Then you blew into the straw to create a multi-colored sphere that was more durable than a soap bubble, but a bit more fragile than a traditional balloon. The drawback was that one of the main ingredients in Super Elastic Bubble Plastic was ethyl acetate, a solvent used in nail polish remover. Combine that with polyvinyl acetate, the other primary component, and kids were exposed to some serious health risks if they happened to inhale too much while inflating their plastic bubbles.

10. WITCH DOCTOR HEAD SHRINKER KIT

Who knows exactly what chemicals made up the “plastic flesh” that progressively shrunk over the span of 24 hours. Given the time period (the late 1960s) we’re guessing that either the flesh or the paint had some level of toxicity. But what about the other inherent danger involved? Say you, as a kid, taking advantage of the assurance in the commercial that homemade shrunken heads were appropriate for “all occasions”? Would Mom smack the heck out of you after Grandma nearly collapsed when she unwrapped the shrunken head birthday present you’d made for her?

BONUS: GILBERT U-238 ATOMIC ENERGY LAB

By Webms (online) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sort of sneaking this one in, as I don’t know if it was ever advertised on television, but it’s too good to pass up. In 1951 A.C. Gilbert, the man who invented the Erector Set, introduced a brand new educational toy: the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. Gilbert worked closely with physicists at M.I.T. while developing the kit, and also had the unofficial approval of the U.S. government, which thought that such a toy would help the average American understand the benefits of nuclear energy.

The Lab came equipped with a Geiger-Mueller radiation counter, a Wilson cloud chamber (to see paths of alpha particles), a spinthariscope (to see "live" radioactive disintegration), four samples of Uranium-bearing ores, and an electroscope to measure radioactivity. It also included a comic book featuring Dagwood Bumstead (the man who couldn’t leave his own house without knocking the mailman down) describing how to split an atom. The Atomic Energy Lab’s main drawback, other than possible radiation poisoning, was its price tag: a whopping $49.50, which would be over $300 in today’s dollars.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
arrow
#TBT
The Highs and Lows of the Dell Dude
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu

Benjamin Curtis was just 19 years old when he went to the open audition that would change his life, but he still felt like a senior citizen. He was surrounded by child actors from the ages of 12 to 17, most of them accompanied by their mothers. The group was part of a casting call for Dell, the personal computing company well-known to business and educational customers but an unproven commodity for the home market.

Dell’s ad agency, Lowe Worldwide, hoped to change that reputation by introducing the character of Steven, a sharp, tech-savvy teen who would extol the virtues of Dell’s desktop and laptop offerings in a charmingly goofy manner. Even though he was two years outside the age range, Curtis’s agent believed he had a shot.

He read. And read again. And then read a third time. By December 2000, Curtis had gotten the part and was quickly becoming known as the “Dell Dude,” a pitchman who rivaled the Maytag Man in terms of commercial popularity. But by 2003, the character would disappear, victimized by a peculiar kind of corporate hypocrisy. While the Dell Dude’s stoner wisdom was good for laughs and increased sales, Curtis being arrested for actual marijuana possession was not.

In 1984, Michael Dell was a pre-med student at the University of Texas when he began tinkering with home computing hardware. A serial entrepreneur—he once made $18,000 as a teenager collecting data to find new subscribers for the Houston Post—Dell figured that custom machines and aggressive customer support would help fill a niche in the growing PC market.

He was right. Dell racked up $1 million in sales that year and spent the next decade and a half expanding into a billion-dollar enterprise. But a lot of Dell’s business consisted of commercial accounts like schools and government offices, leaving direct-to-consumer sales largely untapped. To help introduce Dell to those users, the company hired Lowe Worldwide to create a campaign that would appeal to people who felt intimidated by the personal computing phenomenon.

Lowe conceived of a precocious kid who could rattle off Dell’s specs and lend a human face to their line of hardware. But the “Dell Dude” wasn’t fully realized until Curtis walked in the door.

Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Curtis grew up interested in performing magic and drifted toward theater in an attempt to strengthen his stage presence. He went on to earn an acting scholarship to New York University and had a roommate who knew a commercial talent agent. Having been introduced to her, he began going out on casting calls. One of them was for Dell.

Embodied by Curtis, the Steven character morphed into a Jeff Spicoli-esque surfer archetype, fast-talking and charming. In his first appearance, Steven makes a videotaped appeal to his father for an $849 Dell desktop “with a free DVD upgrade” because he knows his dad “likes free stuff.” In another, he encourages a friend’s family to gift his buddy with a Dell for $799, complete with an Intel Pentium III processor.

The commercials debuted in 2000, but it wasn’t until DDB, the Chicago ad agency that took over Dell’s account, introduced a catchphrase that Steven acquired his nickname. In his fourth commercial, he announced to his friend, “Dude you’re getting a Dell!”

From that point on, Dell’s splash into residential home computing was guaranteed. Sales rose 100 percent, with Dell’s market share growing by 16.5 percent. The awareness was almost exclusively the result of Curtis’s popularity, which grew to include numerous online fan pages and calls for personal appearances. Younger viewers wrote in and wondered if he was available for dates; older viewers considered him a non-threatening presence.

By 2002, Steven had starred in more than two dozen Dell spots. In some of the later ads, he took a back seat, appearing toward the end of the ads. The cameos prompted some concern among fans that Dell would be sidelining Curtis, but company representatives denied it. In early 2003, however, the Dell Dude found himself out of a job.

“Dude, you’re getting a cell” was the headline in media accounts of Curtis’s arrest in February 2003 on suspicion of attempting to purchase marijuana. Curtis was on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and sporting a kilt he recently acquired in Scotland when an undercover officer spotted him purchasing the drug from a dealer. After being held in custody overnight, Curtis was released and the case was adjourned. If he stayed out of trouble for a year, his record would be expunged.

The New York Times compared the relative innocuousness of his arrest to that of actor Robert Mitchum, who was arrested on a marijuana-related charge in 1948. Despite living in a more conservative era, Mitchum’s career was largely unaffected. The same didn’t hold true for Curtis, however; he was promptly dropped by Dell as their spokesperson. According to Curtis, the company had a strict no-drugs policy for employees, and one strike was all it took to force his dismissal.

Feeling ostracized from commercial work and typecast by the role, Curtis juggled gigs while working at a Mexican restaurant in New York and enduring daily recognition from customers. “They’ll get really drunk, and they’ll start yelling things at me,” he told Grub Street in 2007. “I either ignore them, or if it’s way out of hand, I go up and say, ‘I appreciate your support, but my name is Ben.’ That usually doesn’t work so I smile and ignore them.”

Dell never found a mascot as well-liked as Curtis. They hired singer Sheryl Crow to appear in spots beginning in 2005, but she didn't sway consumers as much as Steven had. In 2010, the company attempted to battle back from negative press over selling defective computers to customers between 2003 and 2005. Today, they typically occupy a list of the top three PC companies, trailing Lenovo and HP.

Curtis, meanwhile, made a segue into off-Broadway performing and now operates Soul Fit NYC, a holistic wellness center in New York that offers yoga, massage, personal training, and life coaching services. Although he’s expressed interest in coming back to Dell as a spokesperson, the company may not appreciate his latest indiscretion: In 2013, he admitted to owning a MacBook.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios