Beware the dark side

Taking a break from political ads, to look at the controversy around the Westminster Dog show‘s decision to pull the sad pedigree dog ads it had been running. From the Article, the spokesperson (wouldn’t it be cool if they had a spokesdog) said, “The feedback we got from our primary audience was that they were seeing commercials that made them want to turn the channel.”

Here’s the commercial in question:

I thought it was a pretty good commercial, I really liked the copy, which I thought was well written if a bit much.

Here’s the ad that replaced it by Purina:

Have to say I liked this ad better. The music and inspiring images, made me smile. I could connect to the home images of the dogs and be inspired by the working dogs (like the dog jumping out of a helicopter, maybe he or she could be a spokesdog someday).  I thought the message was clever, make a good dog great.

My wife works in international development, and she saw some polling data some years back that people didn’t like to see sad images of kids in Africa in the advertising.  It depressed them, made the problem seem insurmountable, and left them feeling powerless and less likely to respond or act. Now we can argue how sad the Pedigree ad really was, but I wonder if the Westminster Dog show didn’t have a point?

Look the Purina ad has nothing to do with pet adoption, but honestly, if you slapped a “Adopt a dog” message at the end of that spot, I’m pretty sure it would work just as well. Like I said, it left me with a warm feeling. The Pedigree ad reminded me of a problem I know existed, but I’m not sure if left me ready to go out and act (not that we’re getting a dog, despite my two son’s great desire for one). Showing the ads to my my eight year old said the sad ad makes him want a dog more because it makes him worry about them, but I think the feeling the Purina ad invokes — companionship, the cuteness and love, the sense of play and connection with a pet, are equally powerful motivators (my eight year old says he liked this ad better) and their positive motivators carrying none of the guilt or avoidance of the Pedigree emotions.

Who knows why Westminster did what it, the decision has come under scrutiny, but reading the article Pedigree has found a way to spin the loss into a PR gain. The fight reminds me of something from Star Wars (doesn’t take much to go there).  Luke asks Yoda if the dark side of the force (anger, fear, aggression)is stronger? Yoda replies, “No, quicker, easier, more seductive.”

I would say the same is true about ads: The way our brains are designed it’s easier to appeal to those “darker” emotions of anger or fear. The Pedigree ad isn’t quite going there, but I think the point is the same. It goes for the low hanging fruit, guilt, sadness, hoping to inspire action, but the Purina ad reaches higher, it’s aspirational, showing the viewer the way things could be and touching on what really inspires us — that’s real strength.

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2 Responses to “Beware the dark side”

  1. David Strasberg Says:

    I liked the “sad” ad until I saw the new one.

    As for your kid focus group… kids are not overwhelmed by problems yet, so the threat to the dogs is easily remedied – go adopt one. For the adults among us, though, I walk away with a hopeless feeling. Adopting one only reminds me of all the other ones I left at the shelter.

    The Great Dog ad is inspirational. It shows us why we all want a dog to begin with, but we just need a reminder (one that leaves out the surprises on the rug and the early morning barking).

  2. Adam Strasberg Says:

    Exactly how I felt. Interesting thought re: the “kid focus group” and how kids and adults might see the ad differently — perhaps we’re just worn down.

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