Special Report: Brand Building Through TV: Red Dog’s personality comes through on TV

Of all mass media advertising, television is arguably the most intrusive, the most memorable, and the most responsible for helping build a brand's personality. Yet many marketers have been moving money to below-the-line activities at the expense of tv. In this...

Of all mass media advertising, television is arguably the most intrusive, the most memorable, and the most responsible for helping build a brand’s personality. Yet many marketers have been moving money to below-the-line activities at the expense of tv. In this special report, we review three campaigns in which television has played a crucial role in establishing or improving the image of a bank, a beer and a car.

An appropriately named canine called Ugly got his start on billboards.

But, his real fame and what he represents – Molson’s Red Dog beer – came from his almost inevitable tv career.

Gene Lewis, vice-president of new business development at Molson Breweries in Toronto, says to create the image and character of a brand there is no medium quicker than television.

So, it was to tv Molson went with the u.s.-bred bulldog that now lives with its trainer in Vancouver.

Lewis says the second reason to go to tv with the new beer was the brand awareness it brings.

And, he says that old saw about if you’re not on tv, you don’t exist, may be truer for beer than any other category.

Despite Red Dog’s move to tv, Lewis says it was certainly discussed at Molson that the brewery should select a slower build for the brand, although, of course, the compelling arguments for tv won the day.

‘After we had looked at the advertising, and got some consumer feedback on it, we felt that there was no reason to hold back,’ Lewis says.

He says Red Dog’s tv advertising ‘became its bark.’

According to Lewis, the message Molson sought to communicate with its Red Dog spots – which had voiceovers by u.s. actor Tommy Lee Jones – was threefold: here is a new beer, a different beer, and those who drink it have a strong independent streak.

Barrett Book, vice-president, group account director at bbdo in Toronto, says the tv commercials provided an accurate depiction of Red Dog that print and outdoor alone could not communicate as well.

‘tv brought the Red Dog face to life,’ Book says.

He says equally vital to the success of the commercials were the voiceovers.

He says the tone and mood of Jones’ voiceovers were ‘absolutely correct’ for the commercials.

According to Lewis, the idea of using a bulldog logo was not fixed in cement.

He says Molson came up with the name Red Dog first – perhaps thought of by a football fan on staff since the term ‘red dog’ is commonly used in playbooks – and then began to look at different breeds of dog.

‘When we were looking at the various kinds of dogs, we kept coming back to the characteristic or personality that we were trying to create,’ Lewis says.

‘And, as soon as you start talking about independent-minded, spirited, goes their own way, we all agreed that a bulldog certainly captures those characteristics,’ he says, noting the breed is popularly thought of in those terms in many quarters.

(Despite their lineage and fearsome, plug-ugly countenance, modern bulldogs are actually gentle, rather shy creatures far removed from the aggressive English-bred dogs once used to fight bulls.)

Book says care was taken with the choice of dog because it was important the animal projected the ‘brand essence,’ but, at the same time, not be restrictive.

He says Ugly appeals to all demographics, noting Red Dog is not a young person’s beer.

Lewis says the tone Molson and bbdo sought to give the tv commercials was one of balance, seeking not to appear too serious, nor for viewers to take the spots too seriously either.

‘That’s what comes through, I think,’ he says.

‘The spots are humorous, without necessarily being funny, comical spots. You clearly get the message [that] Red Dog is spirited and fun-loving, and, yet, at the same time, determined.

‘We were also looking to balance – on the package alone, people perceived [the logo] to be an overstated image of being tough.

‘Red Dog is determined, and, certainly, tough, but not for the sake of being tough. The advertising is looked at as being a balance to that.’

Book agrees.

He says the tv spots were ‘somewhat irreverent’ in their delivery and sought no particular market segment save for that one which views itself as free-spirited and confident.

He says what the advertising – tv and the rest – set out to do was create a badge that crosses all boundaries, not just a brand or a beer.

Lewis says if there is any demographic skew at all for Red Dog, it is the under-30 crowd buying into the attitude the advertising projects.

He says he is pleased with the number of women drinking the beer, adding, they, too, are keying on Red Dog’s attitude.

He says if there is a downside to the Red Dog campaign, it may be that the brand image was overexposed and there was over-delivery on awareness.

Book says the initial awareness and trial generated by the tv spots must have been ‘extremely encouraging’ to the brewery.

Lewis concurs, saying during the trial period of the brand, the spots created much more desire for Red Dog than had been projected.

Book says the billboard part of the Red Dog campaign began May 1, 1994, and the tv spots broke two weeks later, providing two weeks of ‘intrigue.’

Ugly’s likeness on billboards drew some peculiar responses, and some good – but wrong – guesses about what product it was advertising.

Some people actually thought the bulldog drawing was the new logo of the Toronto Raptors, the city’s new National Basketball Association team. Others thought the bulldog was the logo for a new brand of blue jeans.

As for Red Dog’s future, Book says as far as he knows, there is no plan to change or improve the creation of a ‘very successful badge.’