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Animals in advertising – Sheep & Goat
Sheep are often used because of their wool. Wool as a raw material and for its insulating properties. Their behaviour, grazing and living in flocks, is also important. It is remarkable that black sheep are mostly seen as something positive.

Sheep are used for a wide range of products and services. They are popular in recruitment. But then to indicate what is not wanted. Though sheep are domesticated they sometimes are made to stand in for nature and a pristine environment.

first published: xii.2023

Sheep are called
upon for a surprisingly wide range of products, or services, without a clear preference. They help with the sale of cheese, mattresses, carpets, energy saving, repair services, lawn mowers, cars, scooters, modems, imagesetters, kitchen equipment, … They can also represent the environment, spring, a holiday destination, and ideas such as herd mentality and the opposite. Sheep are really very versatile.

Nevertheless, we managed to bring some structure to the whole and we divided the advertise­ments into eight usage types. Although several of our samples can be assigned to different types at the same time, we consider this approach better than an arbitrary enumeration without any logic.

 Usage type:  Products: a sheep can make wool and give milk

(1) 199? – Carpets from New Zealand wool.
(2) 1997 – For tennis balls only New Zealand wool — carpets.
(3) 2008 – Thick sweater day — energy saving.

The approach in
this section is straightforward. Whether it is a product (1, 2, 5-7), a service (8), or an idea (3), it is always about wool or a property of it.

In the 1990s the label Wools of New Zealand ran a series of adverts directed to prospective carpet owners (1, 2, 5). Each advertisement takes a slightly different approach.

In No. 1 You are told to buy only carpets carrying the specific label showing the fern leaf. A label that stands for the standard of perfection. The brand tries to make the reader smile with the best dressed sheep wear it and in the image sheep are shown with a structured coat that refers to the endless variations in the structure of the carpet.

No. 2 continues to maintain a light tone in the image and we also learn something from it: NZ wool is used to make tennis balls. No wonder our carpets are so springy. And they again point to the fern leaf that is awarded only after passing twenty demanding tests.

It is only in No. 5 that the NZ nature card is fully explored. What should you look for if you are looking for a world-class carpet? Again for the label of course, but you should also consider that

… The best carpet manufacturers mainly use wool from New Zealand. Do you know why? Because New Zealand wool is clean and that is because of the air. Now we don't know how the air quality is in your country, but we have our ideas about it. …

They then continue about breathtaking land­scapes, beautiful nature, pure air and therefore clean rivers, clean grass, clean sheep, and thus clean wool.

We recognize the typical branding of NZ: quality, green, and clean. It is kind of an early case of greenwashing. What I remember from NZ is that almost all the original vegetation has disap­peared and what remains is in many places surrounded by barbed wire as protection against the ubiquitous grazers. And the condition of many native species is not great either.

But the landscape in the photo is true to reality; it suggests a vast tapestry; it is green; the sheep behave in a herd and the arrow points to the label with the fern at the bottom of the photo. With the exception of the greenwashing: well done.

(4) 1981 – Cheese with sheep's milk.
(5) 1995 – What is important when you are looking for a carpet?

Thick sweater day
(3) Dikketruiendag is a cam­paign by the Flemish government annually organized on, or near, February 16th, the day the Kyoto Protocol came into effect in 2005. The sweater symbolizes what can be done at home, at school and at work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the early years, from which adverti­sement (3) originates, the emphasis was on turning down the heating.

The advert is a difficult one to read and understand. I have no idea why exactly this design might have been chosen: Friday the thirteenth, a dark corner, the shadow and the cobwebs. It evokes a Halloween atmosphere without connection with the purpose of the campaign. But the sweater is knitted from wool and hence the sheep. At least that is clear.

(6) 2019 – An original combination to keep warm — heating system.
(7) 2013 – Get the most out of your insulation — insulation foam.
(8) 2007 – Heating problem at home? — repair service.

Insulation → wool → sheep
is the path followed by our next examples.

There are original combinations to keep you warm and there is the perfect combination are we told in (6) which is an advert to promote fuel oil for heating. It is clear that they try to make us smile. We recognize also the improve on Mother Nature theme which is also present in advert 7 where the insulation foam performes better than the sheep's product. Unfortunately, I do not understand why the sheep is half-sheared; why not completely shaved? Is it to indicate that the wool only performs half as well? Is it to illustrate a half-solution to be avoided? Hard to tell.

The message of the repair service (8) is easier to read. A typical intervention is for a defective heating system and from there the reasoning is straightforward. The maintenance technician himself brings the sheep as temporary heat sources. There's the mild humour again. And there is more to come.

(9) 2012 – The perfect solution for every lawn — mowing robot.
(10) 2015 – Recommended by leading mowing experts — mowing robot.
(11) 2010 – New ideas - New people — scooter.

 Usage type:  Sheep are grazers

Better than Mother Nature
is also implied in the adverts for a robotic lawn mower (9, 10). The reader could assign the task to sheep, but for fully automatic perfection this device is Recom­mended by leading mowing experts. Trying to steal a chuckle, again.

They could also have depicted other grazers, but sheep is a particularly good choice because they crop plants very close to the ground, lower than f.e. cows. It is also noteworthy that the scientific name is correctly written: Ovis aries with a small initial letter for the second word. Most copywriters stumble here and use a capital letter incorrectly (e.g.: a toad Bombina Variegata, or a dolphin Tursiops Truncatus).

 Usage type:  Sheep are herd animals: all sheep are alike

Sheep live in herds.
They are indistinguishable from each other, respond in groups, and follow a leader. However, they are preferably used to indicate that the opposite is desired. Are you going to continue doing what everyone else does? are we asked in the Spanish advert for scooters (11). The same idea —stand out from the rest— is present in the Play more advert for a game console (12).

(12) 2002 – Play more — game console.
(13) 1995 – Be ware — modem.

Recruiters almost without exception are looking for people who stand out, who have a unique personality, or who love to break away from the flock (14-16). Again the sheep show what is not wanted. At least, that is what they are telling us. In sometimes daft language (14, translated from Dutch):

Standing out and convincing, that's what our profession is all about. We are not herd animals. No sizzle, but all the more steak . … We are looking for a sheep with five legs … in red.
In my experience employers in general prefer the more docile people who without friction step into the company's grey suit with blue tie.

(14) 2011 – The message is to stand out — jobadvert.
(15) 1998 – We want them numerous but all different — jobadvert.
(16) 2007 – If you just follow, you'll never lead — jobadvert.

The previous adverts (11, 12, 14-16) are telling the reader to behave differently. The raging animal in No. 13, however, is telling us that the product stands out above all other similar devices. Why a sheep was chosen is beyond me.

The same holds true for the two goats in No. 17. The advert stems from ages before digital printing, when images setters first wrote text and images to be printed on film, which was then copied to an aluminum plate which was then used in the press. The process required the film to be placed gently and precisely in direct contact with the plate.

So, just like in our earlier examples, the opposite of what is needed is shown. But why the goats? Any animal species where males compete for dominance could have been chosen. A species where the males push each other instead of bumping would have been better. And then they should not have resorted to using the opposite with a simpler message as result.

(17) 1993 – If this is your idea of contact printing — contact printer.
(18) 1999 – We already know that sheep cloning goes very fast — data storage.

We already know
that sheep cloning goes fast, very fast. But what goes even faster is the propagation of data. And the growth of the internet is only making things worse (18). How right they are. The advert aludes to Dolly the first cloned mammal whose existence was announced to the world in February 1997. As it was quite something at the time, probably a good idea to get attention.

 Usage type:  Black sheep are either good, or bad, and certainly different

Black sheep is
an expression used for a member of a group (people or objects) different from the rest. Because they deviate from the standard (behavior) they are a disgrace, they cause embarrassment.

That is exactly how the black sheep in No. 19 is used : it stands for an inferior product. The premium brand explains (from Dutch): … Some people are inclined to save on less important equipment when furnishing their kitchen. That rarely ends well. Therefore, it is better to stick to the highest quality level. … After all, you spend a large part of your life in your kitchen.

(19) 1985 – Accept only the highest quality for your kitchen appliances.
(20) 1994 – This new device is the black sheep of imagesetters.

The approach of the imagesetter (20-22), however, is unexpected. The black sheep is superior to the rest (from French) : … The new imagemaker is the black sheep of the imagesetters. She stands out in many ways. … the true master in terms of productivity and quality.

The English versions (21, 22) don't mention black sheep in the text, but the animal is always present. And from the text it becomes clear that the advertising brand is the black sheep which is superior: Don't settle for less than the best (21) and … a productive imagesetter that delivers outstanding quality (22). This is the opposite of the usual meaning of a black sheep.

(21) 1995 – Don't settle for less than the best — imagesetter.
(22) 1995 – We think differently — imagesetter.

Our next examples (23, 24) are about cheap deals for phone, internet and television bundles. The black sheep seem to radiate a positive vibe. Why were they chosen? Why do copywriters seem to think differently than other people about black sheep? To show that the company is different? Or was the animal chosen because cheap sounds nearly like sheep? But this doesn't explain the colour though.

(23) 2008 – Cheap deal — phone & internet.
(24) 2011 – Take advantage of our winter deal — phone, tv & internet.

 Usage type:  Refer to a saying

You never get ahead
by following in someone else's footsteps (25). And also Is Purup pulling the wool…? In this case (25) the same brand which used black sheep to represent its own superiority, is now bringing normal sheep to the forefront. In this advert the sheep stand for the reader, or more precise, the competitor who is trying to imitate the brand. And they are wondering if the specifications of the imagesetter aren't too good to be true.

The next advertisement is for a radio program where listeners can win a bed (26). For the winner, sleepless nights will be a thing of the past. No more counting sheep. This explains the sheep. The text also attempts some ordinary puns about getting up early (the broadcast is early in the morning), going to sleep (in Dutch under the wool), and bleating. Nothing I would pay for.

(25) 1995 – Are they pulling the wool…? — imagesetter.
(26) 2022 – How many are we? — radio program.

 Usage type:  Stand in for the environment, a country, or spring season

Sheep are domesticated
and we can therefore not consider them part of the wild or the natural environment. Still, some designers use them to stand in for nature, or a pristine environment and the good old days. Possibly because a flock of sheep triggers the image of a shepherd leading his flock across endless moors.

No. 27 is an example of this approach. Our car is a relief for the environment because it is equipped with start/stop technology. The sheep crossing the road carry the Dutch word for Thank you on their flanks. The car is with the sheep. In the next example where sheep play the role of the environment (31) cars are clearly the enemy: Who gets space?

(27) 2010 – Stopping is good for the environment — car.
(28) 2004 – Literary spring — books.

Sheep, and certainly lambs
are often associated with springtime, the season of new beginnings: new life, cleaning and refreshing the home, and so on. Some examples of this approach are shown in the Nos 28-30. A book fair with the name literary spring (28) and taking place in March and April, spring in Flanders where this advert was published. A food supermarket (29) which announces it will be open on the Monday after Pentecost. Finally a factory outlet for used compu­ters (30). The advert was published in March and that is probably why the lamb is shown.

(29) 2014 –Shop is open the day after Pentecost.
(30) 2004 – Factory outlet for computers.

A flock of sheep
is a strong trigger for warm feelings about the good old times and a good natural life full of quality time. Something that holiday destinations like to use to nudge people. No. 32 is an example where a ferry line will happily bring you over the North Sea to the flocks of Scotland where you sometimes can walk over the heads. We have seen similar uses of a flock of sheep for Spain and for a recreational area in the Netherlands.

(31) 2000 – Who gets the space? — protection of the environment.
(32) 1990 – Sometimes you can walk over the heads — ferry line.

 Usage type:  Contrast: in behaviour, or colour

Under this usage type
the species, sheep or not, is not important as long as there is a contrast between the two. Be it in color, behaviour, size, or something else. Wolf and sheep forget their differences (33) thanks to the coziness of the mattress. Exactly the same approach is show in an advert for central heating in the section about smaller cats. Cat and mouse rest comfortably next to each other, enjoying the warmth of the house.

(33) 20?? – Sheep and wolf forget their differences — mattress.
(34) 1990 – Without words — clothing.

 Usage type:  Miscellaneous, we don't know

(35) 2004 – Always ready to help — phone & internet.
(36) 2019 – Put a goat under the tree — development aid.

(37) 2009 – The best of both worlds — real estate.
Sometimes an advertisement
leaves me really puzzled. I fail to understand them and I don't see why a particular animal was chosen.

No. 35 is from a telco. We see a service engineer trans­porting farm animals under the threat of a tornado. The caption explains that he is doing this during the weekend. Always at your service whatever the problem. Is that the message?

Put a goat under the tree and Surprise someone with a symbolic gift (36). The drawing indicates that it is Christmas season. Let's hope everything becomes clear when visiting the website. Unfortunately, there is nothing that encourages me to take the step.

Best of both worlds (37) comes with a scrawny dog and a lamb. It is about apartment buildings next to a city park. The text also says Are you a party animal or a nature lover? Does that explain the animals?

  The original Dutch text translated literally would sound Little bleating, but all the more wool. which is the reverse of the expression Veel geblaat en weinig wol or All sizzle and no steak.

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