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July 25, 2008

Verizon Angers Humane Activists With Pit Bull Ad

Humane Society, ASPCA Say Dogs Depicted Unfairly in LG Dare Spots; Marketer Will Keep Airing Them

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Verizon Wireless has stepped into a steaming pile of complaints from animal lovers over commercials for its LG Dare phone, but the marketer is sticking with the 30-second spot.

Animal-rights groups protest pits' portrayal in ad.
Animal-rights groups protest pits' portrayal in ad.

The commercial shows a young man trying to obtain the phone by climbing a junkyard fence, when he is instantly greeted by two pit bulls. The dogs, with cropped ears and metal choke collars, bark ferociously and lunge at the intruder. They are just a hair's breadth away from the phone because their heavy metal chains do not quite extend far enough.

The spot has infuriated groups from the Humane Society of the U.S. -- which has asked Verizon to pull the ad -- to PETA, the ASPCA and dozens of pet-related websites, which have posted petitions and message boards on the web protesting the ad with slogans like "Can They Hear Us Now?"

'Despicable'
Veterinarian Susan Ralston sent Ad Age her letter of complaint to Verizon, which says, in part: "I don't know what your company was thinking. I don't know how much money was wasted on this despicable ad. Perhaps you should donate the million or so spent on that 'creative' to pit-bull rescue in an attempt to undo the damage. I switched my BlackBerry to T-Mobile. Maybe if enough folks do the same, it'll get your attention."

Brenda Raney, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless, said the ads were never intended to offend. There are two ads that focus on the Dare, she said; the other depicts a woman on a ledge. "These are fictional ads, designed to be over-the-top, to break through the clutter and get our message across." Verizon is not pulling the spots, she said. Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, New York, is Verizon's agency and created the ad.

Inappropriate and inaccurate
Kathy Bauch, senior director-corporate relations and promotion at the Humane Society, said the ad could further inflame an already outstanding prejudice against pit bulls. "We understand why advertisers use stereotypes. It resonates and people get the point," she said. "But this perpetuates the idea that it is OK to chain dogs and it is OK to have guard dogs."

Mary Harwelik, founder and director of The Real Pit Bull, an education and advocacy organization, said, "This is big news in the pit-bull world. People are outraged." Describing the ad as inappropriate and inaccurate, she said, "Pit bulls are not guard dogs and they were never meant to be guard dogs."

A statement released by the ASPCA in response to the ads says, "These dogs can make wonderful additions to a family. The public also showed their support for the evaluation and rehabilitation of the pit bulls rescued from the Michael Vick case, suggesting that they are ahead of the corporate world in their understanding of pit bulls."

Pit bulls often victims
Mr. Vick, former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was convicted last year on counts of illegal dog-fighting. When authorities raided his home, they found 66 dogs, including 50 pit bulls. While two of the dogs were eventually euthanized, many have been rehabilitated and adopted. Mr. Vick is serving a 23-month sentence at the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., and still faces gambling charges upon his release.

"These dogs are often the victims of abuse," said Adam Goldfarb, animal-companion-issues specialist at the Humane Society.

Ms. Bauch said the Humane Society only rarely asks companies to pull ads. The last time was in 2004, when Energizer ran a spot that depicted a mother expressing displeasure at finding a cat in the dryer that had been put there by her son. Energizer complied and replaced the scene.

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