Dog and pony show

Posted by Bob on March 28, 2000

In Reply to: Dog and pony show posted by ESC on March 28, 2000

: : : : I've never heard this phrase in the UK. What does it mean?

: : : It means to put on a presentation, usually done by a corporation to bring attention to itself or one of its products.
: : : I don't know the derivation of the phrase but I would guess it is from a circus. Here in the US in a three ring circus there is always the act that has the ponies parading in a circle going clockwise while there are little dogs jumping from horse to horse in a counter clockwise motion. Just a guess!

: : : I've grown up with this expression. It can refer to any type of presentation or act but sometimes has a derogatory implication to mean that the presentation had no substance just a shallow and cheap entertainment or cheap thrill.

: "Slang: the Authoritative Topic-by-Topic Dictionary of American Lingos from all Walks of Life" by Paul Dickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1990 & 1998) has two entries. One, under Advertising and Public Relations is: "dog and pony show. Press conference; any carefully prepared performance." The other is under Pentagonese: "dog and pony show. Formal presentation aimed at gathering support for a system or issue. Visuals (usually projected on a screen), handouts, and large graphs are essential to a true dog and pony show."

: But it has gone beyond those "walks of life" to mean almost any presentation. I believe a "dog and pony show" refers to a down-scaled circus -- a little show that goes from town to town with literally just a dog and pony.

: One other point, when talking about a "dog and pony show," it's important to adopt a world-weary manner, "Oh, we have to put on a dog and pony show for the legislature."

As an ad industry veteran, I too have grown up with this cliche... and I have met a man (a legend in his own mind) who once made a new-business presentation that included -- you guessed it -- a real live dog and pony. When the potential clients settled into their seats, our boy signaled, and a young lady entered the conference room, dragging a Shetland pony and an agitated golden retreiver behind her. Jaws dropped. The room fell silent. And the menagerie was singalled to leave. Our intrepid presenter then pulled up a chair, and broke the silence. "You don't want a dog and pony show," he intoned. "You want straight talk. Let's get down to business." I'm delighted to report that he didn't get the business. Rumor has it, in fact, that the prospects at the end of the day preferred the animals.