It has long been the custom of the professional classes to take a snooty view of advertising and marketing, the implication being that these honourable activities are not far removed from huckstering.
But, as many an honest veteran of focus group and client meeting will tell you, marketing is a sophisticated and sensitive weapon that can easily explode in the hands of an amateur. Such mishaps are regrettable, but when the victim is a member of the learned professions it requires exceptional restraint not to reach for a sleeve and insert a laugh or two.
These thoughts are prompted by a letter received by our dog.
The competition for places at veterinary colleges is intense and only the best need apply. Education and training for veterinary science is entirely degree-based and there are only six schools. Courses last five years and cover biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, surgery, animal husbandry, pharmacology, public health, and much more besides. The veterinary surgeon is, in short, a man or woman with a bulging brain.
But when specialists, whose study of their subject has been all absorbing, step beyond their formidable ken, they are prey to pitfalls.
A vet peering into a hamster’s bottom is in total command of his universe and commands our respect. But a vet tinkering with a motor car or trying to put up a deckchair is our equal. And a vet trying to market himself is a fool, as our dog will tell you.
As with many of his breed, he is no friend to the postman. An item poked through the letterbox is to him the handiwork of a homicidal maniac who must been seen off at all costs. But, as far as we know, never in his 12-year running battle with the serial intruder of the dawn has it occurred to the dog that the postman might be carrying a letter for him. He is an intelligent animal with a vocabulary of about 50 words, most of them to do with food, but even those of us who know him well had no reason to suspect he was literate. He has never shown any interest in the newspapers – as I say, he is an intelligent animal – nor has he been seen with his nose in a book, even a cookery book.
But you don’t study anatomy and physiology for five solid years without knowing a thing or two. And our vet, who has after his name the initials BVSc, MRCVS, must at some stage have spotted that Guinness the Labrador was a dog of letters. He didn’t let on – perhaps he thought it would worry us – so it was a surprise when the letter arrived.
The first thing Guinness will have noticed – apart from the postman making his usual maddening getaway – was that his name was misspelt.
“Dear Guiness,” it began, “I am not writing to try and scare you, but I am afraid I must point out that is is time for your annual vaccination booster and examination. It is very important that this injection is given every year in order to keep away some very nasty viruses – and of course it’s very nice for us to see you too!!!”
There was more, and worse. “I hope you are well and that there is nothing wrong, but if there is something that has been worrying you, please tell your folks to mention it to me or one of my nurses and we will do our best to sort things out for you.
“Please show your family this letter and ask them if they would make an appointment for you to see us fairly soon.
“I am looking forward to seeing you again – don’t be frightened, I promise I won’t hurt you. With kind regards…”
That arrived a few days ago and so far Guinness has said nothing at all. There could be many reasons for that – he only speaks Labrador for a start – but we suspect that the postscript stung him to the quick.
“Dear Mr I Murray,” it said, “if you no longer have Guiness, I apologise for this letter.” When you are canine, 12-years-old, and beginning to feel your age, you can do without asides like that.
Dogs vomit as a matter of routine. It is of no more concern to them than sneezing. So the human response on receiving such a letter was not open to him.
Then again, perhaps my reaction to this small example of veterinary marketing is exceptional. Maybe the vet really does know best. Perhaps years of experience have taught him that pet owners are as soppy as they come and welcome letters in baby talk addressed to their animals.
The dog’s letter was written using a computer. Does the vet have an epistolary database for all the animals he treats? Does he correspond with goldfish? Does a letter written to a tortoise differ in style, language and content from one written to a gerbil? Is this something they teach at veterinary college?
I have talked it over with the dog and for once he seems no wiser than I am. Then again, he might prefer it if I put the questions in writing and tucked them under his bowl.