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.

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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