My dog walker has become the latest weapon in the escalating search engine marketing wars.
Since I first met Rodney Dorival, owner of Big Paws Little Claws, I’ve thought he could just be the next Cesar Milan. He’s amazing with dogs, erudite, unfailingly charming, drives an immaculate, celeb-ready ’68 Buick Skylark that he restored himself, and as you can see from the photo he looks like the linebacker who gets the brand endorsement work (the arms come in handy for keeping my skateboard-chewing Rottweiler under control.) So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Microsoft also saw his potential and recently decided to turn Rodney and his staff into a marketing channel, wandering the streets of New York in T-shirts emblazoned with the Bing logo and search box.
I’m pretty skeptical about ambient media. When I was working for Ad Age I was frequently bombarded by press releases from people who thought that their network of hubcap-cum-tea trays or toilet seats that double as frisbees, were the perfect branding medium, and I tend to think this stuff is just commercial clutter best avoided by brands. But for Bing, Rodney’s crew seems a smart choice.
Sean Carver, director of brand entertainment for Bing, explains why he did the deal: “Dog walkers make constant decisions about where to go, and get asked for directions and help all the time too. They’re also inherently expert on their local areas, and we wanted to stress that one of our strongest feature is the ability to find what you want locally. We’re trying to humanize search, to put the person in the middle.” And, as Rodney himself points out, “we’re walking billboards surrounded by dogs that people want to stop and pet, what could be better. I’ve always used Bing’s visual search to research my clients’ pets, so Microsoft seemed like a natural partner.”
PR maestro Keith Estabrook who represents Rodney (yes, my dog walker has a publicist, the same publicist as Lebron James!), connected him with Microsoft, and has helped them get some nice earned media on the back of the sponsorship with Rodney appearing in the New York Times and on CBS’ Early Show, sporting his Bing t-shirt. Bing is now planning to sponsor dog walkers in Chicago and San Francisco, and is also working on a map app that’ll help people find their local dog parks.
Of course there’s a bigger story behind this, in the shape of an escalating marketing battle between the search engines.
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