Client: Mars (Pedigree)
Agency: Colenso BBDO, Auckland
Award: D&AD Black Pencil / Radio Advertising / Radio Advertising Campaigns, 2015
As part of its self-declared mission to make the world a better place for dogs, pet food brand Pedigree worked with New Zealand agency Colenso BBDO, in partnership with Clemenger BBDO, Australia, to create K9FM – a pet radio station for dogs.
Pedigree had worked with BBDO Colenso on a number of innovative campaigns designed to build an emotional connection with the brand by bringing to life its mission to make the world a better place for dogs.
In 2011, the agency created Doggleganger – a web application that matched homeless dogs with new owners. A year later, after developing 3D glasses able to simultaneously project two different films about a mistreated dog on the same cinema screen, the team began to consider what to do next.
“The idea came out of science-based observation that dogs get lonely when left home alone,” explains Levi Slavin, Colenso BBDO’s former Creative Director (now Creative Director at BBDO New York). “Many owners leave on the radio or TV to keep them company. So we began thinking about the potential of launching a radio station specifically for dogs with content that would both relax and be fun, for pets and owners alike.”
The Creative Idea:
BBDO Colenso’s research showed that like humans, dogs get bored and that they respond well to classical music and human voices.
The agency set out to create an FM station pet owners could leave on at home while out that would broadcast a mix of music and speech 24 hours a day, with content rotated and refreshed to ensure no two days’ output sounded the same.
The first step was finding the right partners.
For example, the team needed FM bandwidth, so partnered with New Zealand Radio Broadcasting School, which has spare frequency at 87.7FM for part of the year and provided technical support. Production capacity was also needed, so they teamed up with music and sound studio Franklin Road.
“We decided to broadcast primarily on FM for ease of use – so pet owners would not have to leave a computer turned on all day,” Slavin points out.
Working with Clemenger BBDO creative team Tom Martin and Julian Schreiber, Slavin and Lawson brainstormed programming ideas with canine behaviour consultant Jess Allsop, then scripted dog-themed versions of familiar radio show formats.
In discussion show Talkies, for example, topics explored include ‘The Frisbee: Voodoo, Magic, Science?’ Fetch In The Park was K9FM’s take on sports programming, with an outside broadcast from a local dog park. In Cuts Of Meat different cuts of meat were listed. A thought for the day was presented daily in Chew On This.
“We calculated we would need around ten hours of speech content given the rest of the output would be music, with additional content to add to this to keep things fresh,” says Senior Writer Matt Lawson. “The idea was that the station should appear live to any dog or dog owner switching on at any point.”
An important starting point before writing began was defining the personality and socio-demographic profile of the audience of dogs. “It might sound insane, but we needed the structure of audience understanding to work within in order to dress the scene and make it real,” he adds. Besides, taking it seriously made the idea funnier.
“We came up with a lot of content, but it was surprisingly easy and fun to write – though a lot of it didn’t fully form until we were with actors in the recording booth. So much of it was quite organic, which was quite courageous on the client’s part,” Lawson says. “The key was to produce it straight-faced but remain tongue in cheek.”
Pedigree signed off outlines of ideas before each was produced, then let the team make it in the way they thought best before providing final clearance of completed content. “This was a great approach and we were lucky to have a real champion in Leonid Sudakov (Mars’ Chief Marketing Officer for Global Petcare) who worked closely with us to navigate internal procedures without compromising the creative idea,” Slavin says.
The greatest challenge was producing such a large volume of content efficiently on a modest budget. “It was the most daunting thing I’ve ever been involved with. So to make this happen we assembled a tight team of creative talent, most of whom had more than one skill,” he adds.
Almost two years in development, K9FM content took two months to produce from start to finish. The station was then launched in Auckland in May 2014 supported by a promotion and PR campaign.
“We mirrored traditional radio station promotion with a branded van distributing promotional materials and broadcasting live from local parks,” Lawson says. “We also offered dog owners the chance to call a number and leave a message for their pet so personalised ‘shout outs’ were part of the output which helped keep the content feeling fresh.”
With so much content and an audience already passionate about their pets, K9FM attracted significant earned media interest, social comment and online content sharing during the three months it initially broadcast.
Within the three months the campaign ran, Pedigree dog food enjoyed a three year sales high.
K9FM, meanwhile, received more than 1,000 phone calls from dog owners during the first two weeks. And by the campaign’s end, K9FM had an earned reach of 10x the original target. But perhaps they most significant success indicator is that Mars is now considering how best to roll out the idea in other markets.
“Looking back, I am in no doubt that it was the depth of content as well as its sheer scale that made this work,” says Slavin. “Typically, once a campaign has run we’re asking: what next? But the brand content we made for K9FM was such fun to make with so clear and real a purpose, the focus now is on how to push it out further.”
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