The last photograph has put Jason's droopy jowls and calico body on the cover of Archive, in the French magazine Profession Photograph, in Communication Arts and in Chicago Flash. The National Enquirer has asked to run it editorially, presumably among some "pictures of fuzzy chickens and dogs," Barrie says. "I've gotten a lot of calls from people who want to use it for commercial purposes," he adds. Last week I had a call from Sweden. A guy wanted to use it in an ad for some other product, but given that it will run for Hush Puppies over the course of the next year, we respectfully had to decline. Who knows? Down the road it may have a life of its own."
The picture first ran in USA Today on May 18, 1987. Originally conceived as a single ad, it drew so much attention that the client decided to build on it. "People were really happy to see the dog brought back again," says Fallon McElligott account executive Nelle Meese. The previous agency had used a dog as a logo but not as a focal point for the ads.
"We did some pre- and post-test research on the ads, and when they ran there was a significant change in the perception of Hush Puppies," says Hush Puppies' ad manager Jeff Lewis. People even sent the company fan mail and pictures of their own dogs.
The whole thing came about almost by accident. A previous agency had bought space for Michigan-based Hush Puppies (part of Wolverine Worldwide Inc.) in a handful of publications - USA Today, People, Us, Mademoiselle - planning to feature a specific pair of shoes in each. Unable to get out of the media contract after hiring Fallon McElligott, the client needed some ads to plug into the holes.
Writer Jarl Olsen dreamed up the idea of using a visual pun based around a dog. "Ventilated" was the first that came to mind for the Summer Coolers shoes the client wanted to feature. Once the concept existed, "it became relatively easy to expand," Barrie says. "You start with the shoes, come up with a few appropriate adjectives and see how you can extend them to the dog."
Barrie chose Minneapolis-based Dublin, with whom he has worked often, for the job of shooting the dog. "I'm comfortable with him," Barrie says. "I knew this would be kind of an anxious shoot. You don't know what you're getting into with an animal. It could have taken two weeks to get it right."
Dublin saw layouts at least a month before shooting began, so he'd have time to think about how to approach the shoot. "I got really excited,' he says. "Bob's layouts are so funny - they're cartoons."
Dublin, who prides himself on making the most of his prep time, put his staff to work. Studio coordinator Debbie Poole contacted an animal casting agency, then, just to make sure she'd have enough models to choose from, she called pet stores and veterinarians and had notices posted there. (Jason's owners got wind of the deal through a notice in his vet's office.) Assistant Joe Lampi shot the casting session. Wanting an unobtrusive background, Dublin had a canvas painted a mottled gray, then had it repainted in the studio to get it right. Poole scoured the city for props, including the vintage fan she found at Scroungers, a local prop house. By the time Barrie and Jason arrived on the set, the details were pretty well taken care of.
The shots themselves are quite straightforward. "Nothing was real difficult," Dublin says. An apparent artistic influence is William Wegman's large-format Polaroid work with his amazing Weimaraners, Man Ray and Faye. Stylistically the ads also relate to another campaign Hush Puppies and Fallon McElligott had going, in which celebrities' legs, torsos and Hush Puppied feet are mixed and matched.
The first series of five shots took three days. Although he was a novice, Jason behaved like a pro. Shooting 4 x 5 might have been difficult, but "the dog became the least problem of the whole shoot. The dog just sat there," Dublin says, still amazed. "He likes attention a lot. He kind of hummed. He wouldn't move because his owner said, `Don't move!'"
Shooting the shoes that are stripped into the bottom of the picture was a lot harder, Dublin says. "You have to stuff them and wire them and make them look like they're on somebody's foot, mess around with highlights and shadows. The women's pumps came with a stretcher that narrows them out and makes them look strange." Some of the props presented a challenge, too. The lace-edged bonnet Jason wears for "Baby Hush Puppies" had to be custom-made, as did the padded, red-polka-dotted bikini top he holds in his mouth for "California Hush Puppies." Store-bought versions of both were too large for the scale of the dog.
Jason's owners, a Twin Cities couple who prefer to remain anonymous, report that Jason is an obedience school graduate. "He's a ham," the wife says, "and with his training he'll just sit there." Her husband would say "Stay" and pinch his fingers together as if holding a treat, and Jason would muster up the appropriately resigned expression.
The owners were present for all the shots and participated directly in the "Ventilated" picture. Off camera, one owner held out the tip of Jason's right ear so it appears to blow in the draft. Surgical tape held the other ear over the dog's eyes.
What's the special appeal of this image? Besides the fact that people just plain like dogs, Barrie offers this suggestion: "I think the image is relatively easy, but people still find it intellectually rewarding because of the visual pun on ventilated shoes." It's also "just a funny image, with the ears blowing. People know that can't really happen - the ears are too heavy - but they're still amused by it."
"The whole series is really endearing, charming, funny," says Meese, who still laughs over the phone just thinking of it.
Some people with the company wanted to downplay the product's association with dogs in favor of a more sophisticated approach, but once the original ad ran, it wasn't hard to convince them of the campaign's potential. In addition to rerunning the original ads in trade and general - interest publications, Hush Puppies will introduce some new ones this year, including "Casual Hush Puppies," in which Jason rests in a hammock, and "Classic Hush Puppies," in which a (gel) tear drops from his eye as he reads his favorite story, Old Yeller.
Hush Puppies aren't the only ones reaping favorable notice from the campaign. Dublin says he landed an assignment with J. Walter Thompson in New York after an art director there saw the pictures. And - although he shoots everything from food to snowmobiles - Dublin is using Jason as the centerpiece of his spread in Adweek Portfolios, which will feature five animal shots and the line: "When you visit my photo studio, watch your step."
Copyright April 1988 Photo District News. Republished here with the kind permission of Sylvia Paine.