Ad executive Jack Keil wrote “Take a bite out of crime” on the back of an envelope in a Kansas City airport lounge. The slogan stuck, and so has McGruff the Crime Dog, the character that growls them, the New York Times reports. Nearly four decades later, McGruff, the cartoon hound with the guttural voice and floppy trench coat, is still one of the nation’s most recognizable advertising figures, perhaps rivaled only by icons like Smokey Bear, Ronald McDonald and Mr. Peanut. Keil, who died Aug. 25 at 94, said he had envisioned McGruff as a “father figure, or possibly an uncle figure” — tough but warm. He drew part of his inspiration from Detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk on television, which had just wrapped up its popular initial 1971-78 run.
McGruff, unlike “Columbo” reruns,has a Twitter account, a YouTube page and an online store selling backpacks, dolls, Halloween costumes and branded DNA kits. “He’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Ann Harkins of the National Crime Prevention Council, which holds the rights to McGruff’s leash. She added, “He’s a rock star.” Partly because of the penetration of those early ads, McGruff is still described as “informative” by 90 percent of adults, the council said. “We’re doing campaigns on intellectual property theft, mortgage fraud, foreclosure fraud,” Harkins said. “The character and the message remain the same, and we address emerging crimes with the same basic message.”