Long live Duke!
That’s the message from Jay Bush, who appears in the TV commercials for Bush’s Baked Beans alongside a chatty golden retriever named Duke whose security clearance is open to question.
When the news broke last month about the death of Sam, one of the seven dogs who portrayed Duke over the years, Bush was saddened, even though the dog had not been in the commercials for years.
“It was heart-wrenching,” he said.
But the baked beans spokesman quickly realized that his family’s company had a problem. Friends and consumers began reaching out to him to offer condolences for the loss of “his dog” and to ask what would become of the Bush’s Baked Beans commercials.
The original Duke –- yes, Bush really did have a dog named Duke -– died many years ago. While Duke was the inspiration for the dog in the commercials, he didn’t actually appear in the ads, Bush said. Instead, a series of professional dogs took on the role, which is currently played by a golden retriever named Luke.
The success of the marketing campaign, in which the dog reveals that he can talk and that he just might spill the secret family recipe for Bush’s Baked Beans, started after an advertising firm encouraged the company to use a family member in its ads, said Bush. He beat out several relatives for the part.
After shooting the first few commercials, the director told Bush: “You’re still a little stiff. What would make you more comfortable?”
“A martini and my dog,” Bush answered.
The director decided the dog was a great idea and a campaign was born.
The dog’s role required certain skills, and the requirements have changed over time, Bush said. In the early days, the dogs needed to be able to move their mouths on command so that a voiceover could be added and give the appearance that the animal was talking. Now, with advances in special effects, it’s better to use a dog who will keep his mouth still. The mouth movements are added in the editing process.
Despite Sam’s death, the marketing campaign will definitely continue, Bush said. However, fans’ reaction to the death of Sam came as a bit of a surprise.
“It just kind of snowballed,” Bush said. “And what it triggered in my head as brand ambassador is that the initial branding that we’ve been doing really worked and people really do love the campaign and the brand.”
He added that he knows the dog always upstages him.
“I’m totally OK with that,” Bush said.