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Using dogs to sell cars seems to be barking up the right tree

Subaru of America spokesman Michael McHale: “The idea of the ads is to show dogs living the lives that their owners would do."

TV ads for some automakers are going to the dogs.

Subaru of America has launched three new spots as part of its "Dog Tested. Dog Approved." campaign.

And based on the social media reaction to the spots, tongues are wagging. The automaker started the campaign in February 2011.

This week I saw this new spot called "Jackknife."

It made me laugh out loud. And, as a dog lover, I confess, it gave me a new appreciation for the Subaru brand, which is clearly animal friendly, having also teamed up with the ASPCA for fundraising and animal adoptions.

"The idea of the ads is to show dogs living the lives that their owners would do," said Subaru of America spokesman Michael McHale, as his own golden retriever barked in the background during our phone conversation.

"In reality it's the owner's life," McHale said. "But this is a twist on that."

McHale says Subaru's internal research has shown that its owners are more likely than owners of other brands to be active and own a pet.

He adds, "There are 80 million dogs in the U.S. and 40 percent of the U.S. population owns a dog. It's a big market that we want to tap into."

And anthropomorphizing dogs is nothing new. Take, for example, the 1920's canine movie star Rin Tin Tin. The first Oscar nearly went to this wildly popular German Shepherd. And many fans referred to his mate, Nanette, as his "wife."

Apparently even today, animal "stars" resonate with many people.

There are nearly 265,000 followers on Subaru's Facebook page featuring the Dog Tested campaign. Nearly 15,000 people are listed as "talking about it."

And just do a Google search on Olive and Zelda. Olive and Zelda are the names of the two dogs that starred in several of last year's Subaru Dog Tested spots. The Google top results featuring the Subaru ad campaign -- not the food or F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife.

Meanwhile, a couple other automakers are playing the dog card in their Super Bowl ads this year.

Suzuki, which also released its 60-second Super Bowl commercial, this week, features Inuit people and their sled dogs. Ultimately, the sled is replaced with a new all-wheel drive Suzuki Kizashi Sport with the sled dogs riding inside.

And earlier this month, Volkswagen released a teaser of its upcoming 60-second Super Bowl spot to promote the redesigned 2012 Beetle. The spot is called "The Bark Side." The spot features a chorus of dogs woofing out the "Imperial March" -- popularly known as Darth Vader's theme song -- from Star Wars.

As of this morning the ad had attracted 9.3 million views on YouTube since it posted on Jan. 18.

It should be noted that Tim Mahoney left Subaru of America, where he was chief marketing officer, six months ago to join Volkswagen as its chief product and marketing officer.

In terms of marketing, it looks like Mahoney's barking up the same tree as Subaru.

Editor's note: For a look at the automotive Super Bowl ads, CLICK HERE.

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