Bush and Duke
I expected to be totally smitten with Duke, the magnificent, loose-lipped golden retriever and mascot of the Bush Beans Company but I hardly anticipated being downright besotted with Jay Bush, the unassuming, human, spokesperson. Playing second banana (or would that be bean in this case?) to a dog, and being the unwitting straight man for Duke in most of the commercials, doesn't seem to phase the charming co-spokesperson for the most famous baked beans in the world.
The entire interview was an absolute joy to do and a delightful change of pace for everyone in the media center. It was also quite intriguing. After all, in my many years as a journalist, I'd never interviewed a dog before. Oh yes, and let me get the obvious question out of the way ... yes, I did ask Duke to tell me the family secret and, no, he wouldn't. He did indicate by blinking his eyes, nodding his head and wagging his tail, that perhaps -- if I could meet him somewhere when Jay wasn't around -- well, you know what I mean, you've seen the commercials and the signs on the back of the camper. The dog is amazing and manages to speak volumes with only body language. It is clear that Duke is a seasoned tour veteran and familiar with the interview process.
After Duke refused to say anything at all (at least in front of Jay), I directed the rest of my interview to Jay Bush whose bio states that he has been working for the family business since he was "knee high to a pinto bean." His bio also states that, as a youngster, Jay could often be found playing with his "bean toys" and pretending that he was making "new bean recipes." I'm not making this up, folks. This came from his bio. As I read that part of the information packet they sent me prior to the interview, I realized just how extremely brilliant their tongue-in-cheek approach to marketing really is. After all, Jay actually says things like, "My buddy Duke can have a hard time keeping secrets and although he hasn't spilled the beans (obviously an intentional pun) yet, every dog has his price."
The truth of the matter is that the Bush family pet, the "real" Duke, is a bit camera shy, not so fond of traveling and all the excess attention makes him nervous. So the Bush family hired a professional stand-in, and stunt double, to portray their family pet in commercials -- at least that is the story they are telling. My guess is that since the real Duke is the only dog who actually talks, they aren't taking any chances of letting him go on the road. In fact, Jay admitted to me that "the real Duke enjoys watching the commercials from the comfort of the family living room and he has no intention of ever revealing the family recipe; unless the right offer comes along." All kidding aside, there is a photo of the real Duke on the Bush Beans website and his name is actually Duffy "Duke" of Castlebury; certainly a title befitting the dog that inspired such a brilliant marketing idea.
Jay says that the marketing genius of the dog was actually an idea that someone came up with just to help him be more comfortable while making commercials in the beginning. Originally, it was the actual family pet that was brought in to ease Jay's jitters and when the idea of him telling the dog the "family secret" was first suggested, Jay thought it was rather silly but once he saw how folks embraced the whole concept, he came to realize how ingenious the idea was. At their very first Fan Fair experience their booth received more visitors than any other booth and Jay signed more than 3,000 photos of him and Duke. He says it was then that he realized just how big the whole thing really was.
Although Jay and Duke are most aligned with Bush Beans, the Bush Brothers Company actually has more facets than a perfect diamond and their marketing genius isn't limited to just Jay and Duke traveling across the country doing commercials. They also have an incredibly informative and interactive website that lists all of their impressive product line (much more than beans - forty items in all), allows you to sign up for "Jay's Journal" (a popular newsletter full of easy recipes, cooking tips and other interesting features), gives the history of their company, contains a wealth of photos and much more.
In 1995, the "Secret Family Recipe" commercial spot with Jay Bush and Duke won a Gold Effie, one of the most prestigious awards in television advertising. The commercial has generated piles of fan mail and photos from customers and their pets ever since. So much so, that they have actually started a museum of the items and photos they receive.
All kidding aside, Jay Bush is one of the most interesting people I've ever met. He has a special charisma and pleasant way about him. By the end of our interview I realized that the true secret to the success of the Bush Beans advertising campaign is sending the captivating and likable Jay Bush to do all the talking for Duke.
Feature article by Cheryl Harvey Hill