Being Creative and Being a Creative: The Distinction Matters – A Look at Pedigree’s Dogs Rule by Lisa Proctor
“We’re going to sit at our desks typing while the walls fall down around us. Because we’re the least important, most important thing there is.” – Don Draper,Mad Men
I love Mad Men, Don Draper in particular. Even though the story is set 50 years in the past, I still find the portrayal of the creative process and the interaction among the people on the creative team to be (sometimes frighteningly) authentic. The quote I began with is a prime example. The first time I saw the episode in which it appears, the truth of it made me gasp. There are no marketing, no campaigns, no ads without creative (both art and copy), yet it’s so easy to overlook us. It is because, from the outside, the product of our work appears utterly effortless. The images and messages that move so many people in so many ways spring forth readily – and fully realized. This perception is equal parts ridiculous and realistic.
This notion is what makes this unit special for me. I am a creative, and I love it. Coming up with that idea—the one you just know is perfect—is heady stuff, and I freely admit it’s a high that I crave over and over again. And if I’m being completely honest, I like to make it look easy. Over the years, there have been faculty and fellow students in English in particular who have indirectly (and sometimes directly) accused me and my ilk of being soulless drones, corporate lackeys who either don’t possess the talent or the fortitude to be “real” writers and artists. But here’s the thing: when these same people cast about for “real,” concrete examples of creativity, originality, artistry, in our day-to-day lives, they inevitably land on advertising. Suddenly, what is soulless has become inspiring—a catalyst for all kinds of discourse, most of which is not directly linked to the brand that is the focus of the ad. So, which is it? You can probably guess how difficult it is for me not to point out this obvious contradiction to them.
Dr. Tuten’s insight and lessons have made it clear just how utterly and completely these people are missing the point. The opportunity to develop communications that engage a specific audience and spur them to action is a creative endeavor, first and last. Bring on the segmentation, the probability calculations, the demographic data. At the end of the day, there has to be an idea that delivers on the promise of all that other stuff. That’s what we creatives do, and that’s why the creative brief is such a critical document. My experience is that an agency is more likely to start a project before fees have been agreed upon than before a creative brief has been completed. Throughout a project, it serves as a sort of touchstone, a place we can go to remind ourselves what we set out to do and to measure our progress toward achieving those goals.
As it happens, this month I have been teaching the rhetorical analysis, and I’ve chosen to have my students analyze ads for the assignment this semester. All of my students are part of the Millennial generation, generally between 17 and 21 years old. What is significant about this for me is that researchers have identified a powerful affinity for visual stimuli in people in this age group. It is this affinity that has fueled the shift in popularity of social media outlets for this age group from Facebook (and even Twitter) to Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine. So, I wanted to see how they would interpret one of the primary types of images they encounter every day. As I reviewed the assignment for Unit 4, I couldn’t help but think about the choices my students made for the ads they wanted to analyze. At the same time, I have my own list of ads or ad campaigns for which I would have loved to be part of the creative team. Then, there is the fact that, frankly, I love dogs. Dogs and writing. Those are the passions hardwired into my DNA. Combining these inspirations ultimately led me to choose the “He May Be Small” print ad from the Pedigree Dogs Rule campaign as the focus for my creative brief and the subsequent discussion.
Mars Petcare, Pedigree brand
Campaign to promote Pedigree’s adoption drive, as well as its line of dog foods and treats
Lisa Proctor, as a representative of Dr. Tuten’s MKTG 6752 Advertising and Promotion course
Pet ownership in general: Potential for growth. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “nearly three-quarters of US households own pets,” not counting fish (Henderson, 2013). Americans spent $61.4 billion on their pets in 2011, which accounted for 1 percent of total spending per household for the year (Henderson, 2013). The average amount spent on pet food in 2011 was more than what was spent on candy, bread, chicken, cereal, or reading materials (Henderson, 2013) for the humans who own the pets.
In addition, 29 percent of cats and dogs are adopted from shelters and rescues (“Pet,” 2014).
Dog ownership in particular: Strong market. ASPCA estimates Americans own between 70 and 80 million dogs, and 37-47 percent of all US households own dogs (“Pet,” 2014).
Potential challenge: Perceptions of quality. Taking a closer look at the evolution of attitudes about pet foods and treats reveals that in recent years consumers have placed a higher degree of importance on quality, particularly in the wake of the estimated thousands of deaths of pets who ate foods containing tainted wheat gluten (Neff, 2007). The result is that the “ideal point” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2013) for quality in pet food has changed, enabling marketers of natural and organic options to gain traction in the marketplace (Neff, 2007).
Pedigree faces specific challenges in this respect due to the August 2014 recall of Pedigree Adult Complete Nutrition dry dog food from Sam’s Club stores in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, and Dollar General stores in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee (“Recall Notice,” 2014).
Potential challenge: Aging pet-owner population. Aging baby boomers currently have “the largest instances of pet ownership” (Dawson, 2013); however, many are reaching the “drop-off point” for owning pets, and Millennials and emerging minority populations are unlikely to make up the difference (Dawson, 2013).
Strength: Market share. Pedigree currently holds a slim lead in market share over all other top-selling dry food brands in the US, other than private labels (“Market share,” 2014).
This campaign is a cause-marketing effort. It is designed to raise awareness and encourage adoption of shelter dogs, increase the profile for the Pedigree Foundation, and promote the value and quality of the Pedigree brand.
2. Campaign Objectives:
3. Target Audience:
*Determined based on a review of Dawson, 2013; “Family Dog,” 2010; Lieber, n.d.; and “Profile,” 2010;
Understanding the depth and breadth of the relationships between pets and their people in our culture is crucial because that is what serves as the foundation for this campaign. Out of attachments that are as strong as, and sometimes stronger than, relationships that humans have with each other has come a willingness to spend more to ensure the health and comfort of beloved companions.
The target audience for the Dogs Rule campaign will:
4. Primary Message:
The single most important thing that needs to be conveyed to achieve the aforementioned objectives is “Your dog is as important to Pedigree as he or she is to you.” We encapsulate this in the tagline, “Dogs Rule.”
5. Key Supporting Messages:
Key Proof Points:
6. Other Important Information
Mars, Inc. Five Principles: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency, and Freedom.
“The consumer is our boss, quality is our work, and value for money is our goal.” (“Quality,” 2014)
“We work to highlight the benefits of having a pet and to educate people to be responsible pet owners. Our campaigns encourage owners to exercise with their pets and our research explores how pet ownership can help human health and development” (“Our Principles,” 2014)
“Through our programs, we are committed to:
Mars Petcare: http://www.mars.com/global/brands/petcare
Pedigree Foundation: http://www.pedigreefoundation.org
Preliminary reading, pet-human bond:https://www.idexx.com/pdf/en_us/smallanimal/education/bn-research-pet-owner-bond.pdf
Media: print, online, and broadcast
Print: a series of six four-color, full-page ads to run in magazines geared toward our target audience; staggered month to month and rotated publication to publication (no ad should appear in the same publication on consecutive months)
Online: Refreshed content and artwork for Pedigree and Pedigree Foundation websites. Social media content and artwork that coordinates across outlets, as well as with print and broadcast promotions.
Broadcast: a series of six 30-second spots and two one-minute spots to run in heavy rotation in key markets. Messaging and look and feel should be consistent with print and online content and deliverables.
Confession #1: I found that I struggled with the creative brief more than I expected I would. The primary reason is that my experience has been that they can be incredibly detailed, especially with regard to the specifics of the request and the workback schedule (if nothing else), but the description of the document as part of the unit indicated something much shorter. So, that’s what I attempted to adhere to in the preceding document.
Confession #2: I swear I did not realize that TBWA Chiat/Day (the agency behind the Dogs Rule campaign) would be featured in the Art & Copy documentary when I selected it for my creative brief! I chose it simply because it is one of my all-time favorite ad campaigns, ever. Interestingly enough, I had also chosen a Nike Just Do It ad and the Nike “If you let me play” ad for consideration. J
Several truly iconic figures from the ad business were featured in Art & Copy, and all of them said something that I wanted to remember for future reference. But the thread that ran through every conversation was the notion that advertising is theater. It’s entertaining, exciting, visionary, world-changing, game-changing, brutal, and exhilarating—sometimes all at once. These were the messages that resonated with me as I reconstructed the Dogs Rule creative brief. Pedigree is already a market leader. One could easily make the case that any strategy that was too aggressive, too “revolutionary” could ultimately backfire. A lot of agencies out there would have done exactly what Lee Clow described, “milking the client,” doing mediocre work, not bothering to take any risk that might upset the cash cow, so to speak.
Fortunately, TBWA Chiat/Day is not a lot of agencies, and I would assert that Dogs Rule is one of the most creatively original campaigns of the past 30 years. There is a certain “brutal simplicity,” as Rich Silverstein would say, in the tagline, Dogs Rule. It is a clear declaration of supremacy – at once a gauntlet thrown down and an enthusiastic expression of affection. This message and its brutally simplistic delivery is without a doubt reflected in the specific ad I chose, “He May Be Small.” “Shelter dogs aren’t broken,” the copy reads. Later, “Do not pity a shelter dog. Adopt one.” And be damn proud you had the opportunity, while you’re at it. It connects with the audience in a matter-of-fact, yet deeply emotional way, speaking truth to the passionate pet owner and the prospective pet owner alike. As George Lois points out inArt & Copy, it is a “strong idea, simply presented.”
The concepts I internalized from Art & Copy also provide insight into what makes the campaign and the “He May Be Small” ad in particular so effective. While I did do research to help me identify and define the target audience for the Dogs Rule campaign, what I didn’t notice right away is that I am pretty much dead-center of the target market. I point this out only in the interest of full disclosure. I realize now that I love this ad (and the campaign) because I am precisely the type of person it is intended for.
The easy path would have been to focus the campaign on tried-and-true methods for tugging at heartstrings – see any ASPCA television ad, for example. The message? Poor dogs, helpless, abused, broken. Dogs Rule tosses that notion from the get-go. A simple, declarative statement, “We love dogs,” makes clear that Pedigree and pet owners who buy Pedigree products love all dogs, not just the ones with a perfect, well, pedigree. All dogs deserve to be healthy and happy in their forever homes. Our hearts go out to the shelter dogs featured in the ads, but not in pity. Instead, we are challenged to see the strength, courage, and wisdom – the dignity – of those less fortunate than we are. It is as much a comment on our own humanity as it is the dogs.
But that’s just half the story. At the end of the day, Mars needs Pedigree to retain or build on its current position in the market. To me, this is where the true genius of the campaign emerges. Think about it. The Dogs Rule campaign, at its core, is about getting people to adopt shelter dogs. Why? Yes, shelter dogs are awesome. (Truly – I have never owned any other kind.) But they are also a potential channel for growth for Pedigree. So, every person who adopts a shelter dog is a potential Pedigree consumer. The more dogs adopted, the bigger the target market grows. Thus, the Dogs Rule campaign is a virtually flawless execution of a cause-marketing effort. The cause and the brand are highly compatible. In addition, any service to the cause positively impacts the brand, and any equity in the Pedigree brand lends credibility to the cause. Like I said, genius.
The cohesiveness of the campaign also contributes to its success. The look and feel, color palette, design elements, and copy tone and style is consistent across media. Evidence of this consistency is readily discernable by reviewing a sampling of the deliverables from the campaign. For the purposes of this analysis, consider the essential elements of the “He May Be Small” print ad, the “We’re for Dogs” print ad and one-minute “We’re for Dogs” broadcast spot, a roadside billboard, and a social media postcard. What these individual deliverables demonstrate is a clear identity and personality for the Pedigree brand. Images are clear and crisp, emphasizing the distinguishing physical traits of the featured dogs – and the uniqueness of the brand. The scruffy facial hair, the bright eyes, the texture of the fur, the wet nose, the bright pink tongue – though the subject varies, the focus on the subject in each deliverable is consistent. Cohesion remains a priority even as the campaign has evolved, as demonstrated in the social media postcard featured recently in the Pedigree Facebook feed. Even when the deliverable uses candid photographs submitted by fans of the brand, the focus is clearly and squarely on the dog. The companion “We’re for Dogs” broadcast and print ads highlight both the consistency and the versatility of the concept. The same copy works well for both pieces, which is not nearly as simple as it might sound. The breaks in the copy in the print ad preserve the cadence of that in the broadcast version. Likewise, the focus on a single dog in the print ad conveys the same universality as the myriad of images in the TV commercial.
It is important to note, too, that the muted (even dark) color palette of the images serves a purpose beyond emphasizing the featured dogs. It also draws the eye to the signature orange and bright blue colors of the Pedigree brand. This is a brilliant design choice. It keeps the focus on the cause, while at the same time maintaining the recognizability of the brand. Shots of the Pedigree logo and product packaging seem small compared to the size of the dogs and the copy, but the high color contrast more than offsets the seeming disproportion.
The design elements of the Dogs Rule campaign area also extended to Pedigree’s long-time sponsorship of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (which ended in 2011). Making shelter dogs the heart of the campaign emphasizes the theme of inclusion, which served as a balance for the Westminster sponsorship. This approach, Lee Clow says, better captures the real Pedigree consumer, as well as the “beauty and magic of owning a dog” (Parpis, 2008). Reaction to Westminster’s choice of Purina as its new sponsor are an indication of just how effective the Dogs Rule campaign has been. A majority of consumers saw the move in a negative light, as an effort by Westminster to distance itself from rescue dogs (Irwin, 2011).
Indeed, positive reception of the campaign has come from consumers and industry experts alike. In 2007, the second year of the campaign, Pedigree experienced a 6.1 percent increase in sales, compared to an overall industry average of just 2 percent (Parpis, 2008), while at the same time raising $2.7 million for shelter dogs (“TBWA’s,” 2008). In addition, in 2008, “TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles won the $100,000 grand prize in the 27th Annual Kelly Awards, taking the top honor for its Pedigree dog food, adoption-drive campaign” (“TBWA’s,” 2008). Today, the campaign continues to be recognized for its innovative approach to reshaping perceptions of dog ownership, shelter dogs especially.
A part of me wants to take the easy route and say that there is nothing I would change about Dogs Rule. In fact, I do think the initial roll-out of the campaign is pretty flawless. It does exactly what makes advertising so awesome – connect with people on an emotional level, with lasting impact. That said, if I were a part of the team managing the campaign, I would have advocated for keeping “Dogs Rule” as a key message in the advertising. It achieves a certain balance between gravity and levity that makes for such a compelling brand identity. I can’t currently feed my dogs Pedigree, because they all have special dietary needs of some kind or another, but I feel a certain loyalty to the brand just the same. I like Pedigree because Pedigree is for dogs. Because dogs rule. And now I need to go hug mine. J
- Strengthen perceptions that Pedigree loves dogs, and is genuinely committed to improving the health and wellbeing of all dogs.
- Increase the number of dogs adopted from local shelters in key markets.
- Increase donations to support the Pedigree Foundation in its efforts to find forever homes for shelter dogs.
- Encourage brand switching or solidify brand loyalty through positive associations between the pet rescue cause and the purchase of Pedigree brand products.
- Income: $39,000-50,000 per year
- Education: some college through post-graduate
- Age: 18-49
- Gender: male and female
- Other key identifiers: live in single-family dwellings, urban/suburban split, unmarried, newly married-no children, or married-one child
- Consider their dogs to be family. Bagley and Gonsman (2005) tell us, “70 percent of people who share their lives with companion animals report that they consider them their children or as substitutes for children.”
- Love their dogs, and believe their dogs love them back. According to Walsh (2009), it is not unusual to hear someone refer to his or her pet as “the one relationship I can always count on.” In return, pets provide “love, loyalty, and devotion that is unconditional, consistent, and nonjudgmental” (Walsh, 2009). We can see evidence of this intensity in the fact that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the National Guard estimated “30 to 40 percent of people who refused to leave affected areas [did so] because they want[ed] to take care of their pets” (Coren, 2006).
- Have compassion for others (people and dogs). “Most people who connect strongly with animals also have a large capacity for love, empathy, and compassion” for people, too (Walsh, 2009).
- Desire an active social life. A 2001 survey found that “while 79 percent of pet owners provide daily exercise for their pet, 52 percent admit they provide more exercise for their pets than for themselves” (Gardyn, 2001). In addition, the social nature of pet ownership encourages owners to share their “delight in watching animal interactions and antics” (Walsh, 2009).
- With Pedigree, you can “see what good food can do.”
- “When you buy Pedigree, you’re helping dogs in need.”
- “Join one of the largest communities of dog lovers.”
- Pedigree can help you “find the right food for your dog.”
- Pedigree has developed its recipes based on research from its Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, which has published in “more than 1,500 high-impact publications.”
- The Pedigree Foundation has awarded “more than $4 million through 3,812 grants to shelters and rescue organizations” (“About,” 2014).
- Pedigree is the top-selling brand of dog food in the US. More than 1.3 million people follow Pedigree on social media.
- Pedigree dog foods are specifically formulated to address the “Four Universal Needs of Dogs.”
- “Help pets find loving, forever homes by supporting national animal welfare initiatives, youth education, and local shelters.
- “Keep the entire family together by feeding hungry people and their pets.
- “Beautify pet-friendly places to encourage the bond between humans and their pets” (“Mars Petcare US Community,” 2014).
- November 15, 2014 – Initial creative review; rough artwork and copy
- December 10, 2014 – Review revised creative.
- February 1, 2015 – Final internal creative presentation.
- March 1, 2015 – Present initial concepts to client.
- April 1, 2015 – Present proof-of-concept materials to client.
- September 1, 2015 – Present full-size/length campaign materials to client for final approval.
- October 27, 2015 – Final deliverables in market