If you happened to catch the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club dog show on TV, you would’ve seen a Pedigree ad that didn’t star the usual gaggle of happy canines bouncing through fields and drooling for tasty kibble. Instead, it featured sad-eyed dogs languishing behind bars. But before you could even wonder why the brand would want to harsh your enjoyment of selectively bred dogs, the ad ended with David Duchovny’s voiceover making a promise. “When you buy Pedigree, we make a donation to help shelter dogs find loving homes.”
It was one of the first spots in the brand’s “Dogs Rule” campaign, created by its then agency TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, and it was a hit. Over the two-day dog show broadcast, Pedigree raised more than $500,000 in pledges to help shelter dogs. In 2009, in the midst of an economic downturn, Pedigree used its pricey Super Bowl ad time to once again stump for dog shelters and adoption. At the time, Pedigree marketing executive John Anton said the strategy was tied directly to the bottom line, telling the Wall Street Journal, “More dogs are going to end up in shelters because of home foreclosures. … Every time we run this campaign, we see increased sales.”
What started as a single campaign, became the cornerstone of the brand’s image. Like “Smarter Planet” for IBM or “Imagination at Work” at GE, helping the cause of disadvantaged dogs became the platform from which the bulk of Pedigree’s marketing would stem. The platform gave the pet food giant a bigger purpose–buying Pedigree was about more than buying some dog food–it was about helping other dogs.
The campaign has evolved over the years, and with an exploding, but competitive, pet food market, the brand has extended this platform across the globe. In 2011, a New Zealand ad promised to donate all its YouTube revenue to shelters, while this year French agency CLM BBDO took a funnier approach in promising an adopted dog as a better friend than the ones you have right now.
Now, the brand, with agency BBDO New York, is launching its latest U.S. iteration dubbed “Feed the Good,” focusing on the overall good that dogs provide human beings, and society.
Chris Mondzelewski, vice president of marketing for Pedigree parent company, Mars Petcare U.S., says that since 2008, the Pedigree Foundation has awarded more than $5 million through more than 4,000 grants to shelters and rescue organizations throughout the U.S. And despite the Westminster dog show ending its relationship with the brand over its ongoing association with adoption, Pedigree has continued it for good reason. “Our belief in adoption resonates directly with our consumers,” he says. “When we moved from direct product messaging to sharing our Pedigree brand beliefs through adoption, we saw a 40% increase in advertising effectiveness.”
When it comes to picking a dog food, many consumers make the decision in the store based on price. Mondzelewski says tying the brand’s image to something larger than food has been its defining difference in the category. “We have a fundamental belief that dogs do an enormous amount of good for society,” says Mondzelewski. “We have studies that show this statistically, so if we do good for dogs, obviously through the food we’re providing, but also through the shelter work, that it will resonate with our consumers. If they see us doing that, we become a brand with a mission they want to buy into as well.”
While not every piece of Pedigree marketing has been exclusively focused on the emotional well-being of dogs, Mondzelewski says a major lesson learned over the years has been that the brand is at its strongest when it is. “We’ve had years when we’ve had more tactical support on the business where we’ve probably done a bit more like our competition has done, focusing on the product and ingredients,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, really, but what we’ve continued to realize is that playing at that higher emotional level with consumers, really helping them understand what dogs can do for them and that we share that belief, has really resonated when we look at what’s been most successful for the brand.”
With its new “Feed the Good” campaign, the brand is aiming to expand the idea of doing good for dogs beyond the shelters and adoption, without losing those elements.
Mondzelewski says it’s a natural evolution of the platform. Pedigree’s first shelter programs were successful, the customer feedback was very strong, so it morphed into a larger positioning for the brand itself.
“What we want to do now is push our brand positioning further to really illustrate the good that dogs do for society,” he says. “We can still go in and do a tactical shelter program, and we’ll continue to do that, but at the end of the day, if we can convince consumers that they want dogs to be part of their lives because of the good that dogs do for society and for them, that’s obviously going to lead to more dogs finding their way out of the shelters as well. That’s the big step we’re taking right now, asking how do we elevate the positioning of the brand? That’s where our new campaign has come from. ‘Feed the Good’ is about the overall good dogs can do.”.
For its latest campaign, the brand used a recent study conducted by The University of Western Australia in collaboration with the brand’s Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in the U.K. on the important role pets can play in helping people build social relationships and support networks. But more important to Mondzelewski and the Pedigree marketing team, when it comes to determining the direction of the campaign, was that the study’s findings were confirmed by the individual stories of pet owners.
“We do studies like this new one, but lot of our direction comes through the qualitative work we do with consumers, talking to dog owners, getting to know them and how they got to know their dogs, how they decided to bring a dog into their home, what their experiences have been like,” says Mondzelewski. “It’s really these individual stories and conversations with dog owners that we do, along with our agency BBDO, that spark where we take the campaign and the creative ideas we use.”
Both “First Day Out,” the first work of the Feed the Good campaign by Pedigree in Brazil, and the new U.S. ad “The Walk,” are based on real stories, even though one is told with actors while the other is doc style. “All of these illustrate the same insight in different ways,” says Mondzelewski. “It’s a very robust ground creatively because we can tap into the real stories we hear from consumers and dog owners, and bring these insights to life in a variety of ways.”
The Pedigree Foundation is a separate non-profit entity but is still, even if just by name, tied to the brand’s image. Mondzelewski says that while Pedigree is focused on the dogs and changing the perception of shelter dogs and dogs in general, the foundation takes a very specific view of the shelters and the help that they need. “It’s an outlet to get the funds out to make improvements and help create the conditions that create more adoptable dogs,” he says.
It also provides the brand with the grassroots bonafides to back-up its feel good image.
“We always say within the marketing department here that we have backbone to our campaigns,” says Mondzelewski. “We’re not going to go out and create campaigns about shelters and dogs doing good unless we’re doing all these things behind the scenes to make sure dogs are finding loving homes. In today’s day and age, consumers will see through you and know if you’re really all about the values you claim.”