Friday, 25 May 2012

Fictional dog of the week #18: Harvey

Amid an ever-increasing number of TV channels, most of which are awash with irritating, repetitive and patronising adverts for insurance, the ‘Harvey’ adverts – made by Thinkbox to promote the ‘power of TV advertising’ – are a welcome flash of warmth and brilliance.

The original Harvey ad aired in 2010, and was set in a dogs’ home where a couple wandered around while innumerable dogs barked and whined for their attention. When they get to the kennel of Harvey, a small terrier type, the dog clicks on a remote control and shows a TV ad,illustrating all the wonderful things he can do – from ironing and cooking to driving the kids to and from school. In this first ad, Harvey is like a modern-day version of Nana, the children’s nurse from Peter Pan, and it’s no wonder that his video ends with the strap line, ‘Every home needs a Harvey’.

Harvey is played by real-life rescue dog and supreme canine actor Sykes, who was found as a stray in 2004 and now lives with stunt dog specialist Gill Raddings. Sykes has played many TV roles, but it’s Harvey who’s really captured people’s imagination, and who even has his own Facebook page with almost 3,000 followers.

Apart from the sheer brilliance of Harvey’s performance, I particularly liked the first ad because although it had massive appeal, it wasn’t trying to sell me anything. I’m not about to by TV advertising, and the stronger message for me was that there are a great many wonderful canine characters languishing in dogs’ homes waiting for their new owners. The advert got over 1 million hits on YouTube by the end of 2010, and I think it’s done some good in raising awareness about animal rehoming charities. Indeed, Harvey was such a successful character that Sykes was awarded Celebrity Canine of the Year in the 2011 Dogs Trust Honours awards.

That first advert was a tough act to follow, but this year, Harvey continues his adventures in a second advert that's just as good. Harvey is safely in his new home where his owner is trying surreptitiously to throw away his stinky old toy rabbit – a task of some difficulty, as many a dog-owner will know.

Once more, Harvey plays a TV advert, this time celebrating his friendship with Rabbit, accompanied by a brilliant song about friendship by the inimitable Adam Buxton. Again, as well as serving its purpose of promoting TV advertising to a business audience, this ad carries a strong positive message that doesn’t ask most us to buy anything. In fact, Harvey’s rather sweet message about being ‘friends for life’ both underlines the relationship between this fictional rescue dog and his humans, and convinces his owner not to throw away his old toy – and therefore, I assume, not to buy him a new one. They really know what they’re doing , these Thinkbox people.

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