In a campaign sprinkled

with references to Twisted Sister, organized crime and dysfunctional families, a dog presented the biggest problem.

Before shooting began for the first Lycos Network commercials from Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Joe Berkeley, creative director/copywriter for the Boston agency, had his doubts about Basil, the black Labrador retriever who appears in all three spots. (Print and outdoor work will follow the TV effort.)

The question was: Could the dog dig it? “It’s hard when you’re talking to a dog. But Basil was a pro,” says Berkeley. Indeed, Basil plays the pivotal role in the $20 million national campaign; all three TV spots close with the pooch digging up the top of the Lycos logo, illustrating the tagline, “Whatever you’re into, dig into it deeper on Lycos.”

A similar canine appeared in Lycos’ “Go get it” campaign, which was crafted by Bozell, New York, during the past few years. Hill, Holliday supplanted Bozell following a review earlier this year.

The Bozell ads, which were directed at the same demo and used the same offbeat humor, featured the Lycos dog fetching things, including Claudia Schiffer and boxer shorts for a bagpiper on a windy day.

“In the old ads, we were establishing ourselves. In [the new ads], we get really specific,” says Jim Corboy, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Lycos.

The 30-second spots target 18-34 year-olds and focus on Lycos’ offerings in the music, shopping and games areas. The common thread that runs through the ads is a formative experience in the characters’ lives.

For instance, in the music spot, “Skeet,” which broke two weeks ago, a young man recalls that as a preteen he loved rock, but his stepfather hated it. A flashback shows the boy reluctantly loading a Twisted Sister CD into a skeet machine and his father blasting it to bits. Years later, the hero takes his revenge by using Lycos to download industrial rock music for his elderly stepdad, who sits listening on headphones, a pained expression on his face.

“Gino Visco [agency producer] spent three days on the phone with ’80s rock bands. He finally got Twisted Sister to agree to be used,” says Dave Gardiner, creative/art director.

The spots have an “irreverent” humor that’s become appealing, says Gardiner. “We understood going in that some people would be offended, but we felt that our target audience wouldn’t.”

“In each case, there was a defining moment that triggered a passion for a certain subject,” adds Gardiner. The shopping effort, “Wiseguy,” presents a woman scarred by her father’s apparent ties to organized crime and his habit of taking things he hasn’t paid for.

In a flashback, the father is seen dragging a bureau up a flight of stairs, explaining: “It fell off a truck, now get outta here!” At the end of the spot, the young woman holds a package ordered from Lycos, waves a receipt at a nearby surveillance truck and shouts: “You got nothing!”

In the third spot, an older Irish man explains the reason he “fancies” Lycos Gamesville is because he was targeted in the game of “kick the kid with one shoe” as a child. At the end of the ad he concludes, “Now I’m the one kicking arse.”

The Waltham, Mass.-based Net portal is on the verge of completing its $12.5 billion acquisition by Terra Networks of Spain.