Columns: No Margins, No Limits, No Kidding!
SHOW DOG ADVERTISING POLITICS
Dog ads seem to be more about who’s in the photo than about reaching potential buyers but informative advertising could actually serve the public.
August 2, 2022 update
Col. Sam Harper, Dogsport Reconnaissance
It has been a few years since I first wrote about how I saw dog shows and the politics involved in the sport. Opinions still take the place of a timer, the distance covered, or who was left standing when the bell rang.
Since then, my daughter has educated me but my trained observer’s point of view hasn't changed much. Yesterday I thumbed through one of her show dog magazines and it looks to me like you have to know somebody just to get the cost of doing an advertisement. I observed that it must cost as much to brag about how great the dog it does to buy one.
I did find one advertisement about a show this summer but still, a would-be pet owner or a breeder looking for a purebred dog would have to stumble over the fact that there’s a dog show nearby.
If a local breeder or family does find a dog show in their area, they are going to be disappointed because the dogs are either shut up in big rigs, busy being prettied up, or they are in the sanctum of the show ring.
If a prospecting pet owner tries to strike up a conversation with the person holding the leash, they are politely rebuffed. When my daughter raised an eyebrow at that, I reminded her that I’ve checked the lay of dog show land. I observed that dog show folks only want to impress the judges and each other.
I suggested that dog clubs use their advertising budget to promote their presence (and show date, location, and FREE admission) instead of crowing about who is judging.
All that name dropping means nothing to folks looking to buy a family dog. To the dog-seeking public, dog show people appear as rich, snobby, self-indulgent owners and harried, short-tempered dog jockeys. That's why they go to pet shops where people treat them like welcome visitors and are glad to talk to them.
Let’s say I went to a local dog show with the intent of finding a purebred dog breeder in my area. Everyone is busy but I spot some free magazines. I help myself to one and find page after page of flashy dog photos but no contact information. I guess everybody knows everyone because, well, they are so pompously important.
When I relayed this to my daughter, she sighed. “I know daddy, once upon a time people put their names, city, phone numbers and stuff like that in their ads. Now it’s uncouth, like they need puppy sales and there are too many kooks out there...”
“I don't get it...” She frowned, replied “People are afraid to advertise dogs for sale for fear of the animal rights groups or local animal control raids.”
I'm silent as I digested that concept. Finally she said “You know, I’m not sure I totally believe that because even before everyone got paranoid about being raided, they had already quit including who the breeder was, much less the bloodline, you know, the sire and dam.”
Sure enough, I flipped though page after page that contained the handler’s email, website, or phone number but no way to reach the owners. We batted it back and forth, thumbing through magazines. Yep, all the dog ads start out thanking the judge. (It is now 2 years later and nothing has changed.)
Some ads even pictured two or more judges and enumerated wins under those judges as well. I "observed" that show dog ads are clearly more about the judges than the dog. To the average page thummer, the dog is an afterthought. I said it was about marketing, including the judge, not about being proud of the dog.
She thoughtfully agreed “Yes we deny dog show politics and then we spend a grand to run ads that prove it exists.”
My kid got into it, laughing as we noted that the dog’s call name is always prominently emblazoned in the ad but the breed is never identified. She acknowledged the frustration a family must feel if they pick up one of those magazines at a dog show. Pulling a smirky-face, she said advertisers should state the breed “for judges unfamiliar with that breed.” Took a second but I got it.
To an outsider, it appears that the purpose of advertising is to publicly thank the judge and claim credibility according to the stature of the handler. In some ad layouts, usually those done by an advertising agency, it’s hard to find the owner’s name to contact them about a puppy or breeding to that handsome winner.
We decided the easier it was to get in touch with the owner, the more likely it was an owner-submitted project, a “newbie” as she called them. I noted that most of the big win advertising did list a consortium of owners taking credit for the dog.
We also noted is is rare to give any credit given to the breeder or bloodline. We counted, less than half the pages mentioned a breeder. I also learned that sometimes the dog’s registered name is deliberately omitted if it isn’t a “recognized kennel name.”
I guess there’s nothing to be gained by having “discovered” a remarkable dog from an unremarkable kennel or breeding program.
My objective assessment was that breeding a top winning show dogs isn’t the primary goal for most folks. My daughter demurred, stating that breeder/owner handlers can be successful in dog shows. She laughed when I pointed out that she still believes in the tooth fairy.
No, I’ve chatted up enough folks at shows to draw the conclusion that dog show success depends on two things: one’s ability to do a lot of vanity ads (advertising the judges) and hiring a top handler to promote the dog. I also acknowledge that only the top handlers can recognize show ring potential in a young dog. They are the spotters for people who have no “breeding program” and thus, haven’t developed the eye for a winner.
The way I see it, if the dog stands still for the judge, then flies around the ring, and he’s a “showing fool” the dog handler will buy it for a client and with the right marketing, the dog will win, the handler gets paid, and everyone gets happy.
I just might come out of retirement and start up an advertising agency. Kidding of course but I just checked with this website's advertising people and Dennis said “advertising done right is educational for judges and new breeders.” OK, my daughter said that is true so I'm softening my position on what I thought were just “vanity ads”.
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