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Barbara Lippert's Critique: Sock It to Me

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Everyone loves the Pets.com puppet
I know the distinction between advertising and other kinds of media is blurring. For better or worse, advertising is slipping out of its traditional 20th-century container. But who could have expected the most ubiquitous yet beloved icon of the new century, representing fresh, out-of-the-box brand building, would emerge from inside a sock?
He loves Elvis and has an attitude. He is Sock, the face of Pets.com ads and licensed products destined to take over the world.
"We're not forcing the sock puppet down peoples' throats,'' a Pets.com marketing guy told me, explaining the huge demand for the caps, T-shirts, computer items, plush toys, etc., that will soon appear at a store near you.
Given the present manic downturn of the dot-coms, it's even more fitting or ironic that image-wise, a lowly tube sock would lead the way.
I'm not sure why I'm so enamored. The puppet isn't much to look at and his personality seems to be a mix of an actual dog, a laid-back
California dude and my Uncle Mort, who was famous for saying to my brother, "Hi ya, monkey.''
But speaking of the no-tech Sock, I appreciate his depth of character, his delicate singing voice and his uncanny talent for picking tunes that make female baby boomers swoon. I'd take a bullet for that puppet.
I realized this after seeing the "Don't Go" spot that ran on the Super Bowl. It's the one where an owner leaves his real dog in the garage as he pulls his car out of the driveway in a cookie-cutter development. This back-out scene, underscored by the Chicago song "If You Leave Me Now," is as astute a commentary on suburban life as American Beauty. Later, we get a kaleidoscope of pets who are moved, including an iguana with a tear drop. It's hilarious.
Being both cynical and sweet, Sock can jump demographic lines and be a true crossover artist, appealing to men, women, old, young and some of your brighter pets. He can also
participate in a lawsuit. Comic Robert Smigel, usually seen on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, has been sued by Pets.com, which claims he made disparaging remarks about its dog sock puppet.
But for those who prefer to
watch the ads, some new 15-second spots have recently been released. They feature Sock in a delivery truck with Dirk, the almost mute driver.
In "Delivery," Sock supplies a mile-a-minute riff about missing that "playpen and cologne delivery'' for a ferret and why Dirk hurt his back with a 100-pound bag of food for the mastiff. "I told you,'' he says, "lift with the knees and wear a weight belt.''
Part of the genius here is that the director of the original series of spots, Michael Patrick Jann, picked a guy he had worked with on an MTV sketch comedy show to be the arms, brains and voice of the puppet: performer Michael Black.
And in Sock, Black has found his metier. He performs brilliantly in live TV appearances, especially the controversial one on Good Morning America. (The ABC morning show should have disclosed that owner Disney has a stake in Pets.com.) But it was a great appearance. ABC should have sent the puppet to interview Bill Clinton, mano a mano.
But is Sock driving people to the Web site? The stock is at a punishing 2 5/8. And Ken Cassar, a Jupiter
analyst, says the company's "biggest challenge is in the cost of delivery.'' Given that Pets.com will have to absorb that cost for a while, Cassar believes its future is dependent on another round of financing.
Meantime, there's the licensing stuff. That's the final irony in the dot-com business. Build a great spokesdog and they will buy the advertising--at least the plush toy version. K

Pets.com
"Delivery"
Agency
TBWA\Chiat\Day
San Francisco
Worldwide CD
Lee Clow
Executive CD
Peter Angelos
Copywriter
Rob Smiley
Art Director
Lew Willig

"Don't Go"
Executive CD
Chuck McBride
Creative Director
Rob Smiley
Copywriter
Scott Duchon
Art Director
Lew Willig
Agency Producer
Candace Bowes
Director
Doug Nichol/Partiza