MasterCard Dog Has His Day

NEW YORK Finding a dog to carry a trilogy of McCann-Erickson’s MasterCard commercials breaking during the Academy Awards telecast was no easy task. But a Boston terrier named Toby stole the creative team’s hearts—and the role—with his combination of sweetness and pluck.

“I don’t think any of us was set on breed, though on our board we had a picture of a Jack Russell terrier,” said Lisa Bandriff, a senior copywriter at McCann in New York. “We just wanted a dog everyone would fall in love with, who would seem vulnerable, but not down and out.”

The three ads portray a dog that gets left behind on a camping trip, then travels cross-country to be reunited with his owners. Along the way, good Samaritans buy him items with their MasterCard.

Choosing the dog was a difficult process because it had to look somewhat forlorn, but not “sad-sackish,” Bandriff said. Even though a Jack Russell terrier was on the storyboard, creatives did not want to use that breed because it’s commonly seen in commercials.

“We didn’t want the cliche dog,” Brandriff said.

The dog also had to be able to learn tricks quickly and not become distracted. The production company began the dog search even before it knew it had the job.

“We went through a million dogs,” said Independent Media executive producer Susanne Preissler. “We would find really cute dogs, but they couldn’t do anything.”

Toby, who has appeared in Pet Smart print ads, was one of the production firm’s three finalists. Director Scott Hicks filmed the dogs in a callback session to see how they reacted to the camera.

“Scott was very adamant that the dog be able to do certain things on command,” Preissler said. “He had to be able to direct the dog.”

The production company recommended other dogs to McCann personnel working on the spot, including executive creative director Joyce King Thomas and senior art director Kathy Kuhn, but Hicks was a “big advocate” of Toby, Preissler said. And soon, the creatives were too.

“He was really adorable. We all fell in love with him … We all wanted to take him home,” Bandriff said. “We compared him to Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character. Sweet, but not overly sentimental. Scrappy, but a survivalist.”

Toby performed like a pro on set, learning to pretend to pee and hopping into a motorcycle on cue. The only scene he had trouble with—jumping up to catch a Frisbee—was cut from one spot. During the six-day shoot, shot in January on locations in and around Las Vegas and Pasadena, Calif., Toby was in almost every scene but did not require a double.

“He did all his own stunts,” Brandiff said.