Ad of the Day: Pedigree Tackles Race in America in This Provocative Spot

Can dogs, and dog food, make a difference?

Pedigree would like you to consider how its dog food can help ease racial tensions.

In a provocative new ad from BBDO New York, a standoffish white old-timer deadbolts his fortress of a house before taking his giant mastiff for a walk in his largely black neighborhood. After doing his best Clint Eastwood impression—casting sideways glances at everyone he passes—he crosses paths with a black teenager walking a young pit bull.

The dogs make nice with each other, paving the way for the owners to stop giving each other stink eye, and start treating each other like humans. They smile and part ways, while a warm-and-fuzzy voiceover informs viewers that Pedigree is to thank for turning that pit bull puppy into a happy, bridge-building, mastiff-licking machine.

The 45-second spot, directed by Lance Acord, is the U.S.'s entry in Pedigree's new global "Feed the Good" campaign—through which the brand is clearly and genuinely hoping to do some good in the world, and show how dogs can help humans achieve that. (We wrote about the memorable Brazilian work here.)

It's good that Pedigree wants to participate in the newly, and rightly, reinvigorated conversation about race in America. But it's a tall order for any brand to convincingly play diplomat in its advertising, as the positive message is inevitably subsumed by the brand's driving motive—to sell more product.

The message here basically boils down to, "If everyone had a sweet dog, and bought it Pedigree, wouldn't we all get along better?" That's a fine message, and an emotional one that surely connects with consumers. But it works best when applied broadly. When you add a subtext as complex and intractable as racism, it becomes less tenable.

The perfectly reasonable idea that dogs make us better people starts to veer toward the flatly absurd "Pedigree cures racism." And that undermines what's actually a powerful and realistic set piece about subtle racism—even if it doesn't quite capture the deep-rooted historical complexity at play.

The dogs-as-saviors device works better in situations where the brand hasn't bitten off more than it can chew, like Pedigree's recent Australian "Feed the Good" ad, where a pet caught in traffic brings together kids who were fighting in the street.

If Pedigree wants to participate in grown-up conversations about the social good—conversations in which self-interest takes a back seat—the stakes and standards get higher. It's fair game to play in that space. But maybe it's as simple as skipping the product shot, and staying focused on the more important message.

Client: Mars/Pedigree
Title: "The Walk"

Agency: BBDO New York
Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars
Executive Creative Director: Greg Ketchum
Executive Creative Director: Tom Godici
Creative Director: Greg Gerstner
Associate Creative Director: Banks Noel
Creative Director: Andy Blood
Art Director: Scott Kelly
Copywriter: Ben Polkinghorne
Director of Integrated Production: David Rolfe
Senior Content Producer: Sofia Doktori
Head of Music Production: Rani Vaz
Group Planning Director: Crystal Rix

Managing Director: Kirsten Flanik
Senior Account Director: Mark Mulhern
Account Director: Sally Nathans
Account Manager: Brandon Jansa
Account Executive: Rachel Greenlee

Production Company: Park Pictures
Director: Lance Acord
Executive Producer: Jackie Kelman Bisbee
Executive Producer: Dinah Rodriguez
Head of Production: Anne Bobroff
EP / Producer: Caroline Kousidonis

Editorial: Whitehouse Post
Editor: Russell Icke
Assistant Editor: James Donahue                   
Executive Producer: Lauren Hertzberg
Producer: Alejandra Alarcon

Post Production: CarbonVFX
Colorist: Ben Gibbs
Lead flame: Matt Reilly
Flame Assistant: Joe Scaglione
Executive Producer: Frank Devlin
Producer: Bree Bracket

Music: Barking Owl
Audio Post: Sound Lounge
Mixer & Sound Designer: Tom Jurcarone