I have a dog. A Labrador Retriever. Lizzie is preternaturally intelligent. Like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin or Benji or that scruffy mutt in Because of Winn Dixie. Only those dogs weren’t real. Perhaps not the brainy creatures they appear to be on the screen.
Lizzie is for real.
She remembers things. She is capable of reason. Logical thought. I swear at times I can see her analyzing. Weighing things out. The pros and cons. Should I hide the bone here or there? Should I eat breakfast or jump in the car so I won’t be left behind?
Here’s what Lizzie is not:
She is not a consumer. To the best of my knowledge, she does not possess an American Express card. You will not find her name on the National Do Not Call Registry in order for some moron selling timeshares in Arizona not to interrupt her dinner. I have never seen her call the grooming spa for an appointment. If she has ever ordered a bed from L.L.Bean or bought a book at Barnes & Noble or opened a PayPal account, well, I am not aware of it.
That’s because no matter how intelligent Lizzie is, she does not buy things. So, of course, no marketer is interested in her. Me? Sure. I’ve been petcoed and PetSmarted. I have been IAMSed and Science Dieted and Milk Boned and Orvised and Organixed and Konged and Snausaged until I am blue in the face. But Lizzie? She doesn’t know a 60-second TV spot from a banner ad. And she certainly doesn’t know a good spot from a bad one.
Well, no surprise there. One time, my wife, the newspaper columnist, wrote a piece about a video that was supposed to keep your beloved pet company while you were out. A digital dog sitter, if you will. The company said these videos were so riveting to a dog or cat that, well, nothing short of a fine pot roast could pull them away. I guess I’ll never know because Lizzie never so much as glanced at the geese winging their way across our plasma.
And then a couple of weeks ago, something pretty damn strange happened. A TV commercial succeeded where a bunch of geese had failed. An actual TV commercial. I mean, she’s lived with us going on seven years. Literally tens of thousands of spots have aired in her presence. Yet, not once has she so much as looked up from her rawhide bone, her squeaky toy, her ropey toy or whatever else it might have been that was occupying her attention at the time.
A dog eating out of a bowl. That was it. A dog. Eating. Earth shattering, huh? But it succeeded where nothing else had. For 30 seconds, this dog of mine was pegged, nay nailed, to the screen.
Sometimes, we try too hard.
Sometimes we go down one convoluted path after the next, picking off a bit of research here, a piece there. We spend long, torturous hours in meetings, teetering dangerously on the edge of deep comas, listening to cultural anthropologists or behavioral psychologists or whatever ologists are in fashion in any given year. We subject ourselves to focus groups comprised of the dull and the dimwitted, the vengeful and the judgmental. Them, sitting out there with their roast beef sandwiches and their Parmesan Goldfish. Them, ready to savage even the most brilliant thoughts for no intelligent reason but simply because some researcher gave them a few bucks and a dish of M&M’s.
Sometimes it’s justified.
Sometimes things are complicated. Full of pitfalls and black holes and things that can drive a nail into your assumptions so deep and tight you might never get it out.
But sometimes it’s right there staring you in the face. Black as black. White as white. A dog and a bowl of kibble. That’s it. You can run it through all the intellectual mazes you want. Pull it apart and apart and apart looking for the deep, dark insight, the secret button that holds the key to the consumer kingdom. You can do that and I tell you now, it won’t matter. Because there’s nothing down the rabbit hole. Nothing that wasn’t already right in front of you, simple as a thimble.
Simple as a dog.