Whether they’re real or fake, there’s a certain animal magnetism for advertisers

—Despite personal experience proving the adage about “never work with babies or animals,” Craig Redmond found a few new examples of clever critter-based commercial creativity—

“If he doesn’t get it on the next take, I’m gonna shove my arm up his ass and turn him into a hand puppet so I can get the performance myself!”

My then partner, Jeff Hilts, was talking about one of the racoons we were employing on a commercial shoot for Kokanee Beer. The racoons were supposed to be aiding and abetting Sasquatch’s theft of a case of the beer from a camper’s tent. Because Kokanee is the beer that Sasquatch drinks, apparently. And the hairy elusive one wanted to maintain his anonymity, evidently.

A few hours earlier, we had been informed by the so-called animal trainer that racoons can’t actually be “trained,” and instead can only be “tamed.” Good to know half an hour before filming, I thought. And when our raccoon bandits did show up, two of them were nestled contentedly in traditional dog crates, while the third was pacing ominously back and forth, imprisoned in a steal reinforced cage.

Jeff anointed that third racoon Hannibal, because as soon as he was released from that cage, he scurried across the campsite, leapt up onto the trainer, and bit a sizeable chunk of flesh from the dude’s inner thigh. An ambulance was called, and after about an hour of petrified P.A.s trying to capture him, Hannibal was returned to his cell and retired from the shoot. Which left us with the two remaining raccoons, neither of which were what you’d call thespians of the animal kingdom. Needless to say, that particular spot never made it onto our reel.

And it was a sobering reminder of the old advertising adage: “Never work with babies or animals.”

Which I suppose explains the popularity of using much more manageable, albeit significantly more expensive animatronics. Or alternatively, leveraging the leaps and bounds being made in computer generated animation. But even those substitutes for the real things can be fraught with their own challenges and misfortunes.

I once shot a spot in Malaysia for Duracell featuring toy bunnies climbing a mountain. The client chose to save money by using the animatronics from the previous year, which literally backfired. The little robots started farting out smoke and sparks as soon as we began shooting.

That led to the studio kitchen being converted into a triage for the props guy, repairing one bunny while we filmed another. We got the last shot with our very last surviving animatronic animal reaching the summit just before it caught fire and melted. It was a 36-hour nightmare.

As for animation, most perfectionists will argue that even the greatest advances in CG cannot imitate the subtle nuances of real animal life. One art director friend of mine had the unenviable task of exploring CG as an alternative to a longstanding campaign featuring live animals against white backgrounds.

The animal experimented on was the otter. Only one problem: Otters only look cute when they are swimming. And an otter swimming on its back in a white liquid background produced a peculiarly alarming result. So, the mission was cancelled.

But many of our advertising brothers and sisters have been busy recently sharing stories told through the eyes of God’s creatures, both great and small.

Back Market: Cats

Director Tom Kuntz must have summoned his inner Hitchcock when he signed on to help electronics refurbishing brand Back Market tell this horror story of gadgetry reincarnation and its infringement on the feline claim to deferring death. Bit of a long catwalk for a short runway, but nonetheless, it’s the best use of kitties since the classic “Cat Herders” spot for EDS from nine lives ago.

DFS: Animal Thingdom

And in what appears to be a combination of live and animatronic critter performances in this spot for UK furniture store DFS, we’re introduced to the “Animal Thingdom” and one of the most charming portrayals of creature comforts that comes readily to mind.

Quorn Deli: Why Choose the Alternative

But if the unpredictability of live animals and the fear of being gored by a rabid racoons isn’t to your liking, or if computer-generated creatures leave you wanting, sometimes it’s best to suspend disbelief altogether.

Like here for the plant-based alternative brand Quorn by going whole hog on Muppet Movie magic as it cheekily positions animal products as the actual alternative. “Forget about the alternative, Lisa,” whispers the puppet piggy provocateur.

Maybe Hiltsy was right about turning that rodent into a hand puppet after all.

Because personally, my favourite use of animal talent hails from outside the advertising industry, coming to us from that once wickedly funny BBC show A Walk on the Wild Side. I keep this clip bookmarked just in case I’m in particular need of a much-needed giggle.

Craig Redmond