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Sherlock was introduced in 2014 as a beagle who helped reunite travelers with personal items left on a KLM flight deplaning at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. It was simply an ad gimmick. Courtesy photo
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The curious incident of the dog in the airport

Last week’s column about my two dogs prompted remarks from folks who agreed that dogs and marketing can easily go paw-in-hand.

As comments came in, I was reminded of Sherlock, the beagle from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Sherlock was introduced to the public in 2014 as the guy who helped reunite travelers with personal items they may have left on a flight as they were deplaning into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Ads and social media showed Sherlock clad in a KLM-blue vest getting a good sniff of the owner’s scent from a cellphone, stuffed animal, or other item. Then the item would be tucked into a vest pocket…and he was off!

Bounding down crowded hallways, this canine sleuth tracked down his quarry within minutes, possibly before the item was even missed. And this brilliant bit of above-and-beyond customer service generated gobs of free press and feelings as warm and fuzzy as the beagle himself.

A decade later, people still speak of it fondly, seeing KLM as a model corporate citizen.

Navigating airports, security, delays and lost luggage are all-too-common parts of travel. Throw in a talented pup who remediates at least one woe, and life’s suddenly infinitely better.

The story generated millions of views on YouTube, prompting comments like, “Next time I land at Schiphol I’m ‘forgetting’ all my stuff on the plane just to be able to play with this dog.”

Only Sherlock was hired for the ad and doesn’t actually provide services for KLM. The airline’s Lost and Found department is only staffed by people.

Learning Sherlock doesn’t actually exist, members of the flying public who remember the story express irritation with parent KLM, feeling they’ve been lied to.

So while I applaud KLM’s messaging of “We do whatever it takes…” the gap between promises and reality potentially risks making customers feel cheated.

You too may want to make promises that won’t be kept. Customers expecting you to fulfill those promises will think well of you…until they look for fulfillment. Discovering that you won’t do what you said can easily do long-term damage to the reputation you’ve spent years building up.

So before taking the risk, ask yourself whether elevating your reputation versus disappointing customers is worth it.

With that said, I wish you a week of profitable marketing.

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