An advertising executive I once knew built a successful agency on the principle that every business is in the promotions business. “Everything is marketing,” he would say, understanding that a potential customer’s perception of a product or service was no less important than the actual product or service itself. In fact, when it came to his line of work, the perception was what mattered most.

He was right, of course. Everything is marketing, and we’re all in the business. Manufacturers, politicians and even dog breeders all have something to promote, and a cleverly crafted campaign can deliver the customers, voters and good homes each is trying to target.

I started to reflect on marketing’s influence recently when I came upon an ad for a local animal shelter in the community newspaper. The small advertisement seemed, at first glance, like any other appeal to find homes for unwanted animals. But the more I considered it, the more I realized how cleverly crafted this little ad was. Every aspect of its copy and design, it seemed to me, was directed at one very specific consumer: the single woman.

Single women seem to be the focus of one animal shelter’s newspaper ad. Photo © Ivan Mikhaylov/Dreamstime.

The single-color ad with the purple background appeared in the upper right-hand corner of one of the pages in the Arts section. In the ad, a Long Coat Chihuahua looks out from a small round frame, like a picture in a locket. The little dog has a few tear stains on his white coat, and his expression seems forlorn. His name is Toby, and his profile describes him as a “shy, introspective male looking for a partner.”

“Could it be you?” he asks.

Toby tells his potential mate that he doesn’t bite, although he insists, “love bites don’t count.” He’s a real charmer, and graciously extends an invitation to “check out my crib at the shelter.” I imagine the shelter’s staff has been awfully busy lately greeting female visitors vying for a chance to be chosen as Toby’s one and only.

Hopefully, by the time this article is published, Toby will have found his one true love. Who knows? Maybe he and his new BFF have already settled into a daily routine of long walks, quiet evenings and weekends away in the country. I’m hopeful that Toby’s story has a happy ending.

Actually, I suspect that the ad for Toby the Chihuahua is really just a fairy tale.

Call me a cynic, but I wonder if he even exists. I mean, I don’t doubt that the photo in the ad is a picture of an actual dog, and I’m certain the shelter houses dogs in need of good homes. I just can’t bring myself to buy the lonely hearts club story starring a purebred dog with a face straight out of central casting. It all seems a bit too contrived to me.

And that’s exactly the point. It is contrived. Toby’s story, whether it’s based on reality or not, has one purpose: to get potential customers in the door. Toby is the coupon that turns readers into shoppers. He’s a one-dog marketing campaign.

Purebred dog fanciers should take a note from Toby’s emotional appeal. Potential puppy buyers have plenty of options today, and it seems the shelter dog and the rescue dog have become the companions of choice for many, not just single women. The idea of “saving” a dog’s life appeals to many people, even those who haven’t previously considered getting a dog.

The “well-bred dog,” on the other hand, can seem a whole lot less needy. Some may even view purebred dogs as a luxury at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet. These days, it’s easier to identify with the neglected dog. Puppies with good pedigrees and parents with health clearances don’t seem to be in such dire straights.

But things are desperate for many purebred dogs. In fact, dozens of breeds – many that have been in existence for centuries, even millennia – are perilously close to extinction. Their survival remains in the hands of small groups of dedicated breeders who endeavor to keep them from going the way of the Dodo bird. Certainly these dogs deserve the same opportunities for finding loving homes as Toby does, right?

If effective marketing is responsible for getting dogs out of shelters and into family rooms across America, why not try the same approach for purebred dogs? Instead of shelter dog Toby, why not place similar ads in free weeklies that feature rare breeds, like the Polish Lowland Sheepdog or Sealyham Terrier? The tag line could read, “Did you know there are more Bengal tigers on the planet than Otterhounds? Won’t you help?” Sure it’s cheesy, but these ads could raise awareness of the precarious state many breeds are in today.

Better yet, imagine a 30-second television commercial that promotes the cause. Cue the sad music as a black and white image of a Dandie Dinmont Terrier appears on the screen. The dog peers at the viewer as it sits on a doorstep in the pouring rain. The voice of Christiane Amanpour softly tells the story of Pepper – or maybe it’s Mustard – a dog with big eyes and a bigger heart, desperately in need of being rescued. “He’s waiting for you to answer,” Amanpour might plead.

Of course, not every breed makes an ideal companion in every home. Each purebred has its own unique physical and mental characteristics that make it the perfect fit for its own target audience. That’s one of the things we love about our dogs – there’s something for everyone.

Marketing (purebred dogs) is everything. When it comes to the survival of many of our breeds, an effective campaign directed at the heartstrings of dog lovers could mean the difference between finding partners and facing extinction. Ain’t that right, Toby?