Dogs! Cars! Dogs Driving Cars!

Man’s best friend is often a brand’s best friend.  If there’s one thing American consumers love seeing in ads, it’s a dog. Our market research platforms show that time and again the commercials which top our US FeelMore50 lists – gaining our highest 5-Star scores – star the animals. Dogs befriending horses, in Budweiser’s Super Bowl classic “Puppy Love”. Dogs curing loneliness, in Purina’s feelgood viral hit “Puppyhood”. And dogs… dressing up as a giant man to try and get some snacks, in Doritos’ “Dogs”.

That’s not to say that every canine ad is a surefire winner. Plenty just don’t spark the necessary Feeling. But if you get a great, brand-relevant dog idea, you should give it some serious thought.

Subaru’s “Barkleys” campaign – created for the brand by Carmichael Lynch – is such an idea. It’s built around a delightfully simple Fluent Device: a group of dogs driving cars. Take an everyday driving situation – like going to the car wash, squabbling over the GPS, or simply driving your kid home at night after an outing – and add dogs, and the results are just as relatable but a lot more adorable.



At System1 we recently finished our most ambitious program of testing ever – testing every ad that aired last year in the US in six key categories. The aggregate data will power a new service for our clients (see the link at the bottom if you want early word on this!). But first we took a look at some of the 5-Star ads which had come out of the testing.

We discovered that Subaru’s puppy-powered campaigns had performed remarkably well. They’d scored no less than six 5-Star ads in our testing, four of which starred the Barkleys, their driving dogs. And of the other two, one was a dog-centric romance spot and the other broadened the scope to spotlight their charity work for pets of all kinds.

One of the 5-Star Barkleys ads was new for 2018: the lovely ad where a Subaru Ascent visits a doggy car wash. The others were released over the last few years but are still running on US TV channels. That’s not bad for a campaign which is now four years old, and shows the power of Fluent Devices to build emotion over time, as viewers respond happily to well-loved themes and elements in an ad.

The longevity of the campaign is partial evidence that Subaru feels it’s on to a good thing with the Barkley’s ads. But you can also look at the company’s results – over 40 successive months of growth, culminating in the brand’s biggest March and Q1 performance to date. There are plenty of factors in the marketing mix that can generate that kind of success, of course. But the Barkleys’ battery of 5-Star ads is certainly one of them.

Subaru’s campaign hasn’t made headlines or won awards. But it’s done something more worth celebrating. It’s found a simple, but powerful idea that has led to 5-Star ads that people love. With or without a dog, this kind of populist emotional advertising helps brands grow.

If you want to know more about our program testing every ad that airs, give us your details here.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand testing tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

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