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Shelter’s “in-fur-mercials” promote adoptions, boost brand

From Animal Sheltering magazine May/June 2016

Forget the Shark Powered Lift-Away Vacuum, Ronco Ready Grill and Bowflex home fitness machine. For multipurpose utility, nothing beats a product that wriggled its way into human households thousands of years ago.

That’s the message behind a viral-hit video promoting shelter adoptions.

Pet Dog is a vacuum cleaner, security system, personal trainer … and “the list goes on and on,” exclaims the voiceover as canine actors demonstrate their handy functions. Pet Cat gets her own spotlight in a companion video that touts her uses as a trusty alarm clock, seat warmer and window decoration—all with a built-in “self-cleaning feature.”

The “in-fur-mercials” are the cornerstones of a marketing campaign for The Animal Foundation, an open-admissions shelter in Las Vegas that takes in about 33,000 pets a year.

“It’s one of the most creative things we’ve done,” says Nina Radetich, director of marketing and communications. “People absolutely love it.”

It all started in 2014, when R&R Partners, the advertising and marketing firm famous for the “What happens here, stays here” tourism campaign for Las Vegas, asked its staff to vote on a list of potential charity partners. The Animal Foundation was the overwhelming choice.

“We’re an animal-friendly office,” explains Sarah Catletti, R&R senior brand manager. “Everyone loves animals.”

During brainstorming sessions, shelter and agency staff pondered ways they could inspire adoptions and raise awareness about the organization’s work. “We could have gone down the road of trying to make everybody cry,” says R&R executive creative director Arnie DiGeorge. Instead, “we decided to do it in a way that was fun and would be shared.”

The in-fur-mercials launched in February 2015, followed by billboards around Las Vegas, a website, and radio and TV spots. To date, the dog video has reached 7.5 million views on Facebook alone, while the cat video has racked up a more-than-respectable 34,000-plus views.

Adweek praised the “sharp and funny” writing, and even the infomercial industry took notice—the videos won a 2015 Moxie Award from the Electronic Retailing Association.

Beneath the parody are some endearing truths about four-legged housemates. “There’s nothing we say in the ads that pets don’t actually do for people,” DiGeorge says.

“It resonates with all different audiences,” adds Radetich, pointing out that her own dog’s “vacuum cleaner feature” saves her the hassle of picking up the food that her 5-year-old son drops on the floor.

From an organization branding perspective, the campaign “helped people better understand what we do,” says Radetich.

The Animal Foundation has gained thousands of new Facebook fans, positive press and 16,000 new visitors to its newpetnow.com website. And it accomplished it all on a modest budget: R&R’s media buyers negotiated free billboard space and radio spots and discounts on TV ads and social media promotions. For every dollar spent, the shelter received $11 worth of advertising, says Catletti.

Sounds like an unbeatable deal.

About the Author

As senior editor of the award-winning Animal Sheltering magazine, Julie Falconer writes and edits articles for the sheltering, rescue and animal control fields. Before joining the staff of The Humane Society of the United States, Julie was a longtime volunteer with rescue and animal advocacy organizations in Central Virginia. She spends much of her free time assisting with trap-neuter-return programs for community cats.