Advertising – it’s a bit of an animal.

What is it with squirrels? They keep popping up in numerous TV and radio scripts. Barclays, O2, Freeview and numerous others I can’t remember who they were for, including some building society – so much for memorable ads.

Of course adland has always had a love of animals, real or animated.

Meerkat has been an amazing advertising success.

Take dogs for example, they have become icons for Dulux, MoreThan, John Smiths, Andrex, Black & White Whisky, HMV , Churchill and many others. But then we are a nation of animal lovers and using animals is an easy way to emotionally engage consumers.

Cats, besides cat food ads, don’t seem to have become icons for many brands. Ikea used cats in a one off ad which no doubt appealed to the millions of cat owners. I’m surprise Ikea didn’t launch an ‘Ikea for Pets’ range, they missed a commercial trick there.

But of course it’s not always cute and cuddly that sells, or should I say smells! Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ ad was funny unless you are in the room with a real sweaty drum playing gorilla.

Polar bears (avoiding all those clichéd greenwash ads) have appeared in Fox’s mint and Coca-Cola (one of their most successful ads of all time). The best bear ad was without doubt the fisherman fighting one for John West. I never was a fan of  ’follow the bear’ but John Webster (who could have been even more successful in children’s TV) had a love of animals and used them a lot, to such a point that BMP was nicknamed the Muppet Factory.

Teddy bears can be found as a prop in many children bedroom scenes in TV ads, but the latest users are a hotel chain (but can’t remember which).

Seeing how popular horses are, I’m surprised they and their cousins aren’t in more ads. One beer brand used talking horses, can’t think of any ads with donkeys in, Total Greek Yoghurt uses an animated zebra. Of course, there’s White Horse whisky and Marlborough – history now, as is the actor who played the cowboy – he died of lung cancer. How sadly ironic.

As for cows – name any dairy brand.

Birds come and go. The most famous of all time being Guinness with it’s Toucan. But ducks are well liked and good for comedy. And you can always dig up a dodo for a laugh for a soft drink (Five Alive).

Frogs have appeared in many ads, Sky, Budweiser (along with lizards) and the recent ad for..um, another that I can’t remember the brand.

Monkeys came to fame through PG Tips, and even though today’s Monkey character (“I use to be in another ad”) looks more like Roland Rat, he’s a popular icon for the tea brand.

Fish seem to either be props, like goldfish, or are used in bizarre surreal humour – remember Tony Kay’s film of a fish ridding a bicycle? Or the man slapping himself with one? Or the ad for a Jeffrey Archer book.

In many ads animals are used symbolically – elephants never forget, cheetahs are fast, fish have short memories, cats and birds for freedom. Groups of animals for teamwork. Stallions for power. Rats for disgust. Rabbits for sex (with each other). Sharks for people you can’t trust. Dodo’s for bad ideas.

Of course you may find using animals in your ads can backfire and upset a lot of animal lovers who think you are abusing or exploiting animals. There are some barmy people out there too – one organization demanded the London Aquarium stop selling fish in its restaurant in case it upset the live fish. True story.

And you’ll probably have to have an RSPCA person on set making sure you do all the right things. This was even the case when using snails in a TV ad for an online betting company. Yep snails, those things we kill in our gardens. After he left the producer through them over the fence!

One of the all time best uses of animals, adapted to advertising, is Nick Park’s Creature Comforts. Rumour was, he had 6 different brands bidding to use his idea in their ads. The energy company won (bigger pockets I suspect). Nick went on to win loads of awards for his paying client and agency.

And of course, why use an animal when you can turn your product into one – I have always loved the Pepperami ads – best brand attitude of all time.

The use of animals is certainly a good way to engage consumers (I’ve just mentioned a few of hundreds used), and given how many ads we ignore you are better using one than a real person. Cheaper too, and they don’t embarrass you by getting drunk and getting into the Sun’s gossip pages. Plus they make good vehicles for social media. Though the only problem I had was that many of the animals were more memorable than the brands paying for the ads.

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