By Laura Petrolino, StubbyDog VP of Operations (Reprinted from StubbyDog.org)
When you need to blow your nose, do you ask for a tissue? Or a Kleenex?
When you want something to drink, do you ask for a soda? Or a Coke?
When you have a cut, do you get a bandage? Or a Band-Aid?
In marketing, you know that your product/service has reached ultimate “brand” utopia when you achieve what I call “Kleenex-Level Distinction.” Kleenex, Band-Aid and Coke all have brand recognition that is so strong they are no longer just seen as an example of the actual object, but the object itself. In many cases, you might be using Puffs tissues and still call them Kleenex! That’s pretty powerful when you think about it.
The “Kleenex Distinction” is a rather odd dynamic and tells us a lot about human nature. We have a natural tendency to want to associate things in this way. I’m sure someone much more qualified than myself could explain this further (and I might try to find someone in the future), but the important point here is that the association tends to extend beyond the object into its characteristics and actions as well. So, using the same example, Kleenex has become associated in our minds as a quality, soft, trusted source for tissue, so strongly that it is in fact what many of us see as tissue. Much of this is done subconsciously, of course, which makes it even more interesting to explore.
So what does this mean when you look at pit bulls from this “brand” perspective? Unfortunately, the same strong association is there in most cases, but in a negative light. So here at StubbyDog, we say that we are working to rebrand the pit bull, undoing that negative association and replacing it with a more accurate description of these dogs. This precisely what we are working to do through our outreach, stories, articles, photos, etc..
The other day I was out walking my Vizsla, Oliver (yes for those of you that don’t know, I actually am the mom of a crazy, goofy, hyperactive Vizsla, not a pit bull … more on that in another blog). We came upon a family with two youngish kids. The kids automatically came running towards us, arms flailing, obviously un-trained on how they should approach a dog. The parents panicked when they saw the scene take place and went running and yelling after the children, blockading them from reaching Oliver and myself.
“They can pet him,” I said. “He’ll probably give them lots of kisses, but he loves the attention”
“But, is he a pit bull?” the mother asked me tentatively.
Resisting my urge to launch into an educational monologue in the middle of the street, I simply took a deep breath, “He’s a Vizsla,” I responded. The mother paused, looked at her husband and then asked me again, “But, is he a pit bull?”
I wasn’t quite sure what part of “No, he’s a Vizsla” didn’t make sense to these people. So I repeated again, “He is a Vizsla, the dog is a Vizsla, but that doesn’t matter; he is gentle, they are free to pet him if you’d like.”
She continued to look at me absolutely puzzled (I was seriously starting to wonder if I wasn’t speaking English clearly … it had been a long week). She pointed at his the Gentle Leader around his nose, “But why does he have that on his mouth? Does he bite?”
And then it hit me, when this woman was asking me if Oliver was a pit bull, she wasn’t trying to figure out what type of dog he was, she was basically asking “Is he vicious?”
This is the association we must correct if we are going to change public perception of pit bull type dogs. “Pit bull” in too many cases is not seen as a descriptor for a “type of dog,” but as a descriptor for a set of characteristics.
This is why when a dog attack/bite occurs, people automatically assume a pit bull was involved and even falsely identify the dogs as pit bulls. This is why the media indict pit bulls in their coverage of negative incidents involving canines, without having any actual proof of the dog’s breed. This is why “pit bulls” are the target of breed-discrimination laws throughout the country. Just as Kleenex is used to refer to all tissues, “pit bull” is too often used to refer to negative canine incidents or traits.
A key component to changing the conversation about pit bulls is breaking this negative association. Today, I want you to think about the ways you can work to do this in your daily life? What resources can we provide you here at StubbyDog to do so? How can we, as a community of pit bull advocates, change the conversation, reverse the negative association and improve the lives of pit bull type dogs everywhere?
(photos by Melissa Lipani)