So here’s a little known rule in marketing: Leash your dog.
And I don’t mean this metaphorically, as if a dog had anything symbolic to do with customer service, or branding, or best practices in advertising. No, I mean it literally. Keep Cujo on a leash. And make sure you’re strong enough to keep it from getting away from you.
What’s provoking this diatribe? I was walking our dog, Bob, (a Westie, and, yes, on a leash) at Cook Park a little while ago and met a man who asked me if I’d seen someone walking a black Labrador–off leash. He gave a description; white, middle aged, probably a Christian (the owner not the dog). It seems that a couple days before, while he was walking his own dog, a Dalmatian (on leash, thank you), the off-leash Lab had attacked and severely mauled her. While pulling them apart, the Lab owner told him, “I don’t understand it; he’s usually so friendly. It must have been something about your dog that set him off.” I’m sure. Probably the way she was dressed–or the fact that she wasn’t dressed–what can you expect? She was clearly asking for it.
The Dalmatian owner told me his own dog was still in the vet hospital, recovering from surgery, and he didn’t know if she was going to make it. He was combing the park now to see if he could find the Lab owner again, to at least get him to pay for the vet bills–something he understandably didn’t have the presence of mind to ask as he was rushing his wounded dog back to his car.
After expressing mutual indignation at “some people” with him, I went on with Bob’s walk. But I’ve started noticing people walking their dogs off leash more and more, even in parks like this that have clearly posted leash laws. Most people respect the law, but some don’t. And it’s usually with a big dog. Who’s very friendly.
Yesterday, Bob and I were at another park, Summerlake, and I saw coming the other way a guy (white, middle-aged, probably a Christian) with his pit bull–off leash. Now while I love dogs, I’m not a fan of pit bulls. With apologies to pit bull lovers, to me they’re ugly, brutish animals, bred for killing other dogs. I’m sure most of them are very gentle and great with kids. As the man neared us, his dog trotting at his side, I locked Bob’s retractable leash short, stepped to the side of the walk, and kept him behind me. I glared at the guy as he came up and he said, “It’s okay. She very friendly.”
“I don’t know that,” I said coldly. “You know there’s a leash law in this park?”
He didn’t respond except to say to his dog, “Heel, Ginger”–or something; I can’t be expected to remember the dog’s actual name–but kept going (and fortunately, so did Ginger, who didn’t stop to investigate Bob’s butt, as is the dog custom). But the man said again over his shoulder, sort of churlishly, “She’s very friendly.”
I’m sure he’s had to repeat that mantra “It’s okay, she’s very friendly” to everybody he meets, when if he’d just kept her on a leash (as the law required) he wouldn’t have to. He was just a narcissistic Assburgie.
The FU Brand
People like this are advertising their hostile intent (even if they are not fully conscious of it). They are broadcasting their brand, which is “I’m a baddass mofu with a big dog, and nobody’s going to get hurt as long as they respect my libertarian rights…and, of course, don’t make any sudden moves.” It’s the same as those libertarian white guys who tote assault rifles into Walmarts and Appleby’s in “open carry” states. It’s not that they don’t care if they scare people. To the contrary; they do care. They like scaring people. That’s the whole point. It’s vital to them to keep reaffirming in public that they have rights, even it means dismissing the rights of the rest of us to not feel just a little unsure about some sketchy-looking, shaved-headed white guy with a gun… or an unleashed pit bull…while he verbally reassures us he means us no harm.
Now our dog, Bob, is indeed very friendly. He’s a Westie, after all (though I’m sure there are psycho Westies, too). And, unless you’re a squirrel, he’s always calm and well-behaved. He has never jumped up on people and is patient when strange children want to pet him (but I always caution them to ask first). He doesn’t like big dogs. But then he’s over 15 , which makes him about 110 in dog years, and is not too sure of himself. But I always walk him on a leash. He feels safer that way because he can physically feel the connection to me.
But I personally know people who are scared of strange dogs, even small ones. Some of them were attacked by a dog as children, or just have irrational fear of them–doesn’t matter (Some people even have an irrational fear of tarantulas. I know, right? Those innocuous, furry little things? Go figure. ) So out of respect for people, I always walk Bob leashed, even though he weighs 18 lbs and has teeth with the consistency of Gummi Bears. Because they don’t know how friendly he is. Most of the time.
The Personal Marketing Rule
And here’s where the marketing lesson comes in. When you walk your dog, you’re projecting something about yourself; your brand. It’s not just what kind of dog you have. It’s how you respect other people when you come up to them. And if your Yorkie or Newfie or Westie or pit bull is unleashed in public, the thing that it says loudly about you is that you don’t care about other people. That’s what you’re marketing about yourself. And you’ll find you probably have more trouble making friends. Because you’re an asshole.
Think of it like an ad campaign for a company known for…oh, I don’t know…raping the environment, for instance, or maybe food contamination, or employee abuse. They can have a headline that says, “We care about people!” but if their brand belies that through their actions, it’s like the guy with the unleashed pit bull saying, “It’s okay, she’s friendly.” That’s just a bullshit headline. That dog, or that oil platform, or that pipe line,or that chicken processing plant is liable to go kablooie at any second.
So just don’t tell me how friendly you think your personal brand is. Prove it. Leash your dog. And if you want to take that as a metaphor for marketing, well, that’s okay, too.