CHECK OUT THOSE PUPPIES – The Curious Case Of The Animated Dogs And Our Dystopian Future
The Andrex puppies have been gently tugging our heartstrings in the direction of that particular brand of toilet tissue for decades. Control the nation’s heartstrings and you control its purse strings was the guiding principle. The message was simple. Puppies are soft and fluffy. Our product is soft and fluffy. Buy our product.
The puppies were also funny, but that was just an unavoidable side effect, because puppies are hilarious when they’re not crapping all over your new carpet. There’s nothing intrinsically humorous about toilet roll but soft and fluffy was the thrust of the campaign and it worked, so Andrex got to kill a lot more forests in the name of keeping British backsides clean.
The appeal of actual real life puppies is timeless and unquestionable. If you want to engender trust, a puppy will do it every time, as any predatory paedophile will tell you. Logically speaking, puppies should be amongst the least threatening things any human being could think of. Right up there with rainbows and marshmallows. But there was something a little disturbing about the computer animated versions in this Andrex campaign.
On first viewing the advert, I put my initial discomfort down to a paradigm shift. Chalked it up to plain old fashioned novelty. Like when you first see the new Doctor Who and you just don’t like him, no matter how good a time lord he turns out to be. He’s not the Doctor you’re used to and his very appearance gets your hackles up. But then you watch a few episodes and get used to him and pretty soon you have forgotten any other Doctor existed. Apart from when you accidentally catch re runs of the previous series, then it’s the old Doctor who feels weird.
I can understand Andrex wanting to distance themselves from the oblique kiddy fiddling reference, but there’s just something wrong about the whole set up. It’s like when you get invited to someone’s house and everything’s a bit too nice. The smiles have that exaggerated width born of quiet desperation. The laughter’s too enthusiastic and you just know that when darkness falls the man of the house beats his wife locks his children in the cupboard under the stairs.
I just can’t help thinking of Tony Blair’s campaign before he got into office in 1997. I had lived under the Tories since I was ten years old. Like so many people my age or a little older, every cell in my body was crying out for change. But still I couldn’t bring myself to actually vote. It all seemed a bit too good to be true, which as it turned out was in fact the case. There was that poster that got banned. You know the one. That
“New Labour, New Danger” poster. Just a grinning Tony Blair on a black background and it looks like a strip has been torn off the poster across his eyes, revealing a pair of red malevolent eyeballs underneath. It made the future PM look like some sort of immaculately coiffed demon.
Every time the Andrex advert played, I expected there to be the sound of ripping and that strip to tear off across the width of the screen. I expected to be fixed by the crimson satanic gaze of the puppies and for them to leap out of the screen and turn my throat into something resembling a couple of pounds of badly wrapped mince. But this is all very subjective and probably just me. I think stuff like this all the time. Some people think I should see a doctor and others think I should get an agent. Or a life. The jury is still out.
Two things which are not subjective are how big the puppies are and what they’re doing. In the old adverts, the little doggies weren’t much bigger than the toilet roll itself. Their clumsiness was cute and endearing. In the new version, the boy doggie can easily reach the toilet roll holder, which makes him a much heftier proposition. A bit of over excited enthusiasm from him and he could cave your chest in like it was made out of dry Swedish crispbread.
Of course, they may have just built smaller houses but that brings me to my next point. And that point isn’t that they are living in houses. Puppies do live in houses of course, but they’re not usually the main signatory of the tenancy agreement.
If walked into a house and saw two dogs – of whatever size- and they were both standing on their hind legs and one was wearing a pink ribbon in what might loosely be called its hair and the other one was wearing a watch, I would make a fairly obvious assumption. I would assume that I had somehow become trapped in the Internet. Probably You Tube. To be fair to Andrex, the prospect of having become imprisoned in the World Wide Web would certainly make me need to use an awful lot of their product very quickly. Sadly though, I wouldn’t be able to order any. Being trapped in my computer and therefore unable to reach the mouse. And even if I could, then Sainsbury’s -excellent as their online shopping service is- would not be able to deliver it anywhere near on time.
But it isn’t just one pair of dogs. The taxi driver is a dog. The minibus full of dogs going to school. The pubs and restaurants are all named after dogs. Where are the human beings? It’s like sort of Planet of the apes style dystopian future. But with Labradors and Pugs instead of chimpanzees and gorillas. But this is not the point I was trying to make. They’ve anthropomorphized them, ‘course they have. People think it’s cute. Personally I think it couldn’t be less cute if it was jointly created by H R Giger and Clive Barker on a shared trip with heads full of bathtub LSD. But then again, in many ways I’m not what you might call People.
My internal world may be odd and my standards low, but the animated Andrex puppies are clearly cohabiting. He’s waiting for her to come back from the airport. He’s just closing his laptop on the last bit of porn he’s going to see in a while. Though what he can look up on a keyboard with only twelve keys is anybody’s guess. She’s got him a Frisbee, which is the puppy equivalent of a new iPod. He’s got her some flowers, which is the puppy equivalent of some flowers. So it seems to me that Andrex were trying to sell us toilet roll based on the fear of a dystopian future stripped of humanity and the spectre of underage puppy sex.
Call me old fashioned, but that’s not right. When someone nudges me in the ribs and whispers conspiratorially “Check out those puppies”, whether it be metaphorically or in reality, I want him to be talking about women’s breasts, not actual puppies. Where do you stop with this kind of image? Bears use your product as they do the proverbial in the woods? Your company is run by some sort of spooky mutant man baby? Oh, my missus has just read that bit and tells me those were actually on the telly, I didn’t dream them. That’s right, I have a missus. And she’s not imaginary like the last one. So I’m going to take her advice. “If you feel that strongly about it, then do something” she says.
So I’m going to stop watching it. Then launch a campaign to get my writing banned.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014