I was alone in my apartment, watching an episode of The Real Housewives of New York City, when a commercial came on for Bush’s Baked Beans. I grew up watching these ads—a guy who says he’s a Bush explains how his family makes their baked beans with bacon and brown sugar, and always has. Then, at the end, he mentions that the only other family member who knows the secret recipe is the dog, Duke—and he’s not telling. Then, Duke, with, I pray, the help of computer animation, moves his lips and, in a man’s baritone, says, “Roll that beautiful bean footage!” And his owner is, like, “Ruh-roh,” before they throw to b-roll of beans being lovingly baked.
Maybe because I had a smartphone in hand and maybe because there was just something about the luster of Duke’s silky coat or the tilt of his friendly head that struck me that night in my heart-place, but I decided to tweet something about how badly I wanted to pet that Bush’s Baked Beans dog. I wanted to pet him good.
I asked my Twitter followers whether anybody knew how to set up a Facebook page and suggested we make one for the cause of me getting to pet that dog. Soon, a very sweet person I’ve never met before named Bethany Noodle created a page and titled it 25 Million Strong for Julie Klausner to Pet the Bush’s Beans Dog. Then, a Twitter user named FlyOverState made a cool graphic to accompany the page. The campaign had begun.
I am a good hype man. I love using Twitter, and I recommend you follow me for my groundbreaking tweets like “I got da pie burps” and “Is anyone else with iCloud not able to check their email?” I knew that with the help of social media, anything was possible. Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live, Pitbull is going to perform at a Walmart in Kodiak, Alaska, because my friend David Thorpe decided to use the influence of Reddit to tip the scales of a Facebook contest. I am told Syria fell. I think she’s a singer?
So the day after the campaign officially launched, I encouraged my 30,000 Twitter followers to tweet at @BushsBeans and join the Facebook page in the hope of making my very real, however recently realized dream of petting Duke come true.
I woke up Tuesday to a barrage of supportive @ replies directed at Bush’s and me. Susan Simms tweeted, “I will eat so many cans of delicious @BushsBeans if @JulieKlausner gets to pet your dog.” Sean Russell added, “@BushsBeans roll that beautiful bean footage of @julieklausner petting your dog.” And Lexi Crump taunted, “Don’t be a dweeb @BushsBeans! Let @julieklausner pet that dog of yours! It’s a free country and people can pet a lot of dogs if they want!” Fan art trickled in. Cartoonist Ned Hugar created an incredible illustration of what it would look like when I finally did meet Duke, and he had the decency to make me look very thin.
After a full day of radio silence from the Bush’s people, the campaign was finally acknowledged with a tweet from the Bush’s account. Somebody in the communications department of a bean company tweeted me the following message: “Duke saw your posts and boy is he blushing! He had a special message he wanted us to deliver …” Attached was a jpeg of a kind of Valentine-y eCard looking thing that read “Hey Julie, I <3 You Too!” It was signed “Duke” with a paw print. It was OK. Look—I’ve gotten shittier love letters.
Some of the #25MillionStrong supporters cheered the Bush’s response, as though I were only out for a corporate acknowledgement of my intentions to pet their spokesdog. But that image merely stoked the flames of my ginger ambition. I publicly thanked Bush’s for the sweet card but explained this would not be over until my hands met Duke’s fur—in a loving, pet-ful way.
Around this time, the campaign started getting attention from press outlets. The Huffington Post charted the evolution of my mission in the context of my love of animals and tendency to post any photo I get of pets listening to my podcast or pretending to read my book. Mashable covered the phenomenon, and called me an “Internet Personality,” which was oddly flattering. That article generated hundreds more tweets to Bush’s moments after its publication. Buzzfeed wrote about me and quoted a spokesperson from the ASPCA, who spoke out on behalf of her venerable organization as fully supportive of my campaign. Dog-friendly celebrities on Twitter, including Animal Planet’s Andrea Arden, expressed their desire to see me give Duke some head and chest scratchsies. I got supportive tweets from the fine ladies and gentlemen at Charmin, and the person who runs the Twitter account for IAMS offered to set up a playdate with their—adorable—spokesdog, Pawl Griffin, in Duke’s stead.
Then, the Dog Whisperer called. After I gave an interview to Cesar Millan’s magazine, Cesar’s Way, the editor invited me to Cesar’s Dog Psychology Center in California, and told me I could pet Cesar’s dog, Junior, whenever I liked.
Meanwhile, the true object of my affection was still playing hard to get. I sent written correspondence to employees at Bush’s after tracking down the number of their corporate offices in Knoxville, Tenn. I left voicemails; I sent Facebook messages to their corporate Facebook page. I tweeted updates every day.
I politely ignored the tweets people sent me that speculated Duke must be dead or a CGI character, in hopes of keeping the mission positive.
I heard nothing from Bush’s, but the journalist from Mashable quoted the company as saying Duke was flattered by the attention and “was taking some much needed time off this summer to enjoy cookouts with his best friend, Jay.” However, Mashable wrote, “The company claim[ed] to be checking the dog’s schedule and a meetup should be in the works soon.”
Finally, I got a phone call from a friendly woman who worked with Bush’s PR company. I told her that I wasn’t looking for the company to fly Duke to me, and that I was happy to come down to Knoxville or wherever the dog might be to make this happen. She said she’d go back to Bush’s with my request and the timeline and I asked if they were freaked out at all by the Internet hubbub. The publicist just told me that Bush’s was a small family company and were not used to this kind of attention. I took that as a yes. I tried to seem as noncrazy as possible on the phone. I didn’t even sign off with my signature “Toodle-oodles!” which was very difficult for me.
Soon after that conversation, I received a phone call from Mike Morris, the consumer-experience manager of Bush’s. Mike told me in his charming Southern drawl that he’d been away during the peak of the #25MillionStrong campaign, and came back to an unprecedented number of tweets and emails from people who wanted to see me succeed in getting my dog-pettin’ hands on Duke’s shiny fur. He mentioned how flattered Duke was and thanked me for keeping the campaign positive and making sure I didn’t indulge people who were speculating about Duke’s existence. He asked for my mailing address so Duke could send me some coupons and things. Then he told me that he’d have an answer for me in the next few weeks, and, if they could facilitate a meeting between me and Duke, it would likely not happen until later in the summer or in the fall. I thanked Mike for the update and asked him to keep in touch. I had a good feeling about this thing actually happening. I talked to friends of mine who do video production and told them to look into Knoxville flights. I did some light dieting in the hope of being on-camera and petting a dog, in the next week or two, as per my dream. I told the Facebook group and my Twitter followers to sit tight—there was big news coming.
Five days later, Mike called me again when I was getting my hair cut. Of course it was a good time to talk! We chatted about the weather—thunderstorms in Knoxville, humid and sunny in New York—and then Mike’s voice got sullen and apologetic. He told me that, while the team at Bush’s were flattered by the campaign, they were simply not able to honor my request to pet Duke. A wave of disappointment washed over me as I stared at my big, pale, sad face in the mirror.
The main reason why my request would not be honored is, Mike said, “It’s just not what we do.” He told me that Duke gets hundreds of requests each year from people who want to hang out with him or take him to a park with their dogs, and because Bush’s cannot honor all of those requests, they could not arrange a private meeting with me and Duke. I was not special.
As my stylist combed out my wet hair, I told Mike I was disappointed and asked if all of the free publicity I’d gotten for his company made my request any more appealing—after all, I’d heard from people who’d never even known that Bush’s Baked Beans, or their ads, ever existed before my campaign. I reminded Mike that the Bush’s Twitter account shot up in followers once I began #25MillionStrong. And I reminded him that, were Duke and I to meet, it would cost their company no money, make a lot of people happy, and only serve as a fantastic thing for all parties involved. I basically asked him, with my tone of voice, why he hated joy.
Mike just kept repeating that it couldn’t work, it can’t happen. It wouldn’t be fair to the others who wanted to pet Duke. He told me it wouldn’t matter if I were the host of Good Morning America. I asked him whether his company was freaked out by the attention or squeamish around the enthusiasm of the Internet. He said no. I hung up, devastated.
That afternoon, a thunderstorm moved into Manhattan right before I left the salon, umbrella-less. My hair got soaked on my way home. All of a sudden, I was a Charles Schulz character. Life sucked.
Since then, I have been stymied. I told people that I wouldn’t abandon this campaign until I petted Duke. And to be fair, it’s not impossible that I will not, someday, meet Duke and pet him. I don’t know whether, as per the lore of the ads, Duke is really owned by the Bush family, or if he is an animal actor whose handler has no knowledge whatsoever of the hullabaloo around his or her beautiful dog.
I considered barging into Bush’s corporate headquarters in Knoxville, Michael Moore style, but his technique only pissed people off—and it never got him any closer to Roger Smith.
But the nagging question remained—what exactly happened? Was this corporation so risk-averse it wouldn’t play along with a harmless-seeming, enthusiastic fan of its ad campaign? Did they really think I’d steal the recipe from their magical talking dog if the two of us were to get together? Or was Mike’s explanation of “If we let you pet him, then we’ll have to let everybody pet him” a legitimate explanation?
I might have to accept that this was just a celebrity crush—that there’s no way Jon Hamm would have ever taken me to prom. I should just find somebody my own age--right?
I suppose I could attack this whole debacle as the failure of a corporation—however homespun—to seize an opportunity to engage with its social-media followers on a fun project. Even if they didn’t completely understand the mission, it still could have simply been an amusing enough real-life event to distract us from our boring, mundane lives for a time. The time we usually spend clicking “refresh” on our Twitter timelines and watching reality shows, waiting for a glimmer of possibility on screen to brighten the corners of our minds.
I never got those coupons, either. It’s fine. I don’t even really like beans.