If there is a single image that sums up the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, it is the Pets.com sock puppet. The company hired the advertising agency that had recently had great success with the Taco Bell chihuahua. So they came back with the the little dog puppet with a microphone. The ad campaign was hugely successful in terms of generating attention for the company. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t a stupid idea, but the company ran through a ridiculous amount of money. They even had a float made of the puppet for the 1999 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — certainly a waste of money. A sock puppet can only do so much.
The puppet was performed by comedian Michael Ian Black. He’s a funny guy. The commercials work really well. But he’s a terrible puppeteer. The thing you notice with bad puppeteers is that they don’t even try. There is no effort made to match the sound. The mouth opens and closes at whatever speed while the puppeteer talks, and doesn’t when he isn’t talking. Still, in this case, it is clearly meant to be a hand puppet as they constantly show the arm and the wrist watch. And part of the charm is just how badly it is all done.
After Pets.com was liquidated, the sock puppet was sold to Bar None — the car loan company. They changed him. He was no longer as simple a sock puppet. This was probably because they got rid of Black. I must admit to preferring his voice. But whoever they got was an actual puppeteer. A great puppeteer can work with anything. But just check out the great moves done with the puppet’s lips. And, of course, his snout stays level and his jaw moves down like an actual dog (or any other animal that has a jaw).
I have a general theory that pretty much everything is better with puppets. They add the cartoon universe to real life. Like in the Bar None ad, it would be really difficult to have an actual human do that without making the audience hate him. But he’s puppet, so somehow it’s okay.
Image from Wikipedia where who I’m supposed to acknowledg is less than clear.