Just the other day I was visiting the mall and it struck me how many companies use dogs as part of their fashion brand. And not just in a theoretical way, but actual representations of dogs in their windows and entrance ways. So, I started to think about what these dogs are representing for the brands. Here’s what I came up with.
Aeropostale is a mall store selling casual wear that targets children and teens. Despite being rather cheap, the company tries to portray a high-quality image and style its store more like high-price brands than a bargain or outlet store.
Aeropostale uses a Bulldog in its marketing, represented not only in the window, but in terms such as “Bulldog sale,” in advertisements, and on T-shirts as a kind of logo.
This makes me think that the Bulldog, being a pedigree that’s associated with university sports, is a subtle part of creating an upmarket image. At the same time, Aeropostale is aiming at younger people, even children, which might be why it features an animal, when similar brands targeting teens and young adults (such as American Eagle) do not. However, recently the shift has been away from dog logos and toward bright colors and phone apps. Apparently, the company’s marketers think that kids now like tech more than dogs.
Pink is a Victoria’s Secret brand that aims at teens and college-age kids. Pink constantly faces accusations of “sexualizing” children because its target audience extends down from women in their early 20s to 15-year-olds.
Pink really pushes its mascot, a generic Beagle-like dog with a boldly patterned coat. In this case, it seems like the dog is not meant to read as a literal animal, but as a child’s plush toy. Displayed at the front of the store, it defuses the potentially risqué-looking display of lingerie and helps the store look more acceptable to parents, so it leans the brand away from sexy and towards cute. The dog has no features and is always shown in a bright non-realistic color pattern.
The pink dog in the store at my mall looks like it has been a literal child-magnet; it’s visibly worn from being groped by grubby fingers. But when parents turn to the hourglass-shaped mannequins, how many are going to be alarmed and contribute to campaigns that protest Victoria’s Secret reaching out to teen and even pre-teen customers?
In 1995 Old Navy selected a spokesdog out of the shelter. Magic was an Airedale cross who filled the role from 1995-2001. The company also started a line of doggie fashion. In 2006 it held a very high-profile contest to find a new spokesdog, which was won by another rescued mixed-breed dog called Paco, but then never really used him. (Or her? It’s hard to find out much about the winning dog.)
It seems as if the current mannequin dog is based loosely on Magic, or some similar non-pedigree pooch. In the case of Old Navy, the target consumer group is young mothers, so the dog helps by contributing to a family vibe.
So overall, you can see the brands that use dogs have marketing terms that could easily be used to describe actual dogs. Fun, cute, playful. Something about dogs makes people think about wholesome families, and dogs will always appeal to children.
So basically, dogs are enhancing the heck out of what are essentially the cheapest kinds of clothing that can still be considered “fashion” and the sexiest kind of clothing that can still be considered okay for kids. But could these brands be doing a little more to give back?
I get that fashion brands are mostly not interested in any “downer” messages, especially brands that sell faux-varsity cool to teens. So I don’t expect some kind of educational brochure about the overbreeding of the Bulldog, or the number of shelter dogs who never get their forever home.
But Aeropostale could model its display dog on one of the new responsibly bred bulldogs with a wider waist (to avoid the need for routine caesarians) and a slightly longer nose and tail (to avoid crippling deformity). It could play its own small part in normalizing the appearance of the more robust and vigorous bull dog that will not need surgery just to lift rolls of skin from her eyes so she can see.
Pink could theme a photo shoot about girls volunteering as puppy socializers at a shelter. Cute girls, cute puppies, and a great message about volunteerism and the need to give puppies social experiences early in life. I’m not sure how the lingerie would fit in, but I am sure a clever advertising company could work that out.
And Old Navy could revive its supermodel mannequin advertisements to have a story about the mannequins losing its dog, but he’d be found again because of his his super fashionable collar (as well as his tag and microchip). Thus breathing new life into the dog fashion lines, portraying a great message, and reminding store managers that just like any live dog, the dog mannequin should be properly dressed at all times with a collar and tag.
Because while I know these brands only keep symbolic dogs, shouldn’t these dogs symbolize the standard of care that every fun, cute, playful dog deserves?
About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny, and Pippin — they think of themselves as dog-esque.