After decades of congressional investigations and an onslaught of Jason Bourne CIA-as-villain movies, it’s understandable why the nation’s top spy agency might be eager for a pat on the head.
So, why not earn attaboys by tweeting about a dog that flunked out of K9 bomb-sniffer school?
If ever you needed a reminder about the power of animal stories to generate feel-good PR, consider the case of Lulu, Central Intelligence Agency bomb squad dropout.
In an online series covering the CIA’s latest class of bomb-sniffing dogs, the agency took time this week to consider the case of one black lab that flunked out of K9 school. She just didn’t like the work, and no amount of kibbles could change her mind.
Lulu wasn’t interested in searching for explosives.— CIA (@CIA) October 18, 2017
Even when motivated w food & play, she was clearly no longer enjoying herself. http://pic.twitter.com/puvhDk1tRX
“I smiled at this story,” says Christopher Barger, founding partner at Brain+Trust Partners. “The CIA was following social media 101—using humor and something highly relatable to humanize themselves. After all, who doesn't love puppies and stories about puppies?”
Lulu, the loveable loafer, drew thousands of retweets and “likes,” versus hundreds (at least at press time) for tweets about more successful dogs, such as Harry.
“Sometimes a pup is bored & needs extra playtime, sometimes they need a little break, or it’s a minor medical condition like a food allergy,” the CIA noted earlier this week.
And sometimes, apparently, a dog just doesn’t want to stick its snout into a can of explosives.
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Newspapers and other media outlets lapped it up. The BBC reported on “The good dog who is bad at sniffing out bombs,” and The Washington Post offered, “Lulu the dog flunked out of CIA bomb-sniffer school because she justdidn't care.”
The New York Times backed into its Lulu story with an apology for taking a break from more consequential matters.
The Gray Lady added, however, that “in these fractious times, a series of puppy photos sent by none other than the fun-loving scamps at the Central Intelligence Agency qualifies as a feel-good, stick-it-to-the-man moment, shared by thousands of people who are marooned in office jobs. Meet Lulu, the black Labrador retriever and free spirit who bucked expectations and flunked out of the C.I.A.’s explosive detection ‘puppy class.’”
The Lulu series is part of larger social media effort by the agency, says Jonathan Rick of The Jonathan Rick Group. When people think of the CIA, they tend to think of spies and allegations of torture, he says. Now they will think, “Isn’t that the place that retired Lulu the bomb-sniffing dog?”
“This is branding at its best,” Rick says. “Putting a face (or a tail) on a deadly serious organization humanizes the agency, which by default operates in the shadows. This is especially important for government agencies, which the public too often associates with giant faceless bureaucracies.”
Barger says the Lulu tweets achieved three social media goals that other organizations can learn from:
· They told a story that made people want to see the next installment.
· They humanized the brand (“and, let's face it, the CIA is a prime example of a brand that could use humanizing”).
· They educated the audience by opening a window into the CIA’s role in training dogs to sniff out explosives. Some people might otherwise think that this was more the realm of the FBI or local law enforcement, Barger says.
“Whoever is running social for them earned the paycheck this week,” Barger says. “This was smart and can be an example to other brands with perhaps less of a perception challenge.”
Where do bomb squad dogs go when they flunk out? Don’t worry—nobody’s heading for the pound. This movie has a happy end.
Lulu was adopted by her handler & now enjoys her days playing w his kids & a new friend, & sniffing out rabbits & squirrels in the backyard. http://pic.twitter.com/WOImM75P1D— CIA (@CIA) October 18, 2017
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