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Must Love Dogs

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On a rainy Saturday morning, dog lovers from around the country have lined up inside the Pedigree Dogstore in Times Square to get a first look at the dogs available for adoption. A sleepy beagle named Rex lies against a wall, nonchalantly lifting his head once in a while to check out the commotion brewing around him. A hound named Cherokee wags a tail and sniffs at every leg that passes. And volunteers from New York no-kill shelter Animal Haven cradle puppies from a Labrador-mix litter. Downstairs, a black puppy sitting on a woman's lap in a street-level store window draws in pedestrians bustling along the busy midtown Manhattan street.

Timed to the brand's sponsorship of the annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the temporary retail outlet is part of a campaign to raise awareness of the three-year-old Pedigree Adoption Drive. Private Practice star Kate Walsh opened the store and has talked about the program during recent TV appearances. An average of eight dogs are up for adoption daily, and three days after opening the store, a line has formed to enter a visiting area constructed to look like Central Park, with trees decorating the walls and park benches available to sit and play with potential new housemates.

"This is great," says Patti Hunsicker, as she leaves the puppy park with her family. Hunsicker, who showed dogs for 35 years, traveled to New York City from Louisiana to attend the Westminster show. "We were here before it opened, " she says, explaining that she uses Pedigree products and is a fan of the brand's advertising. "I love the commercials. They are so sweet."

The spots from this year's adoption-drive campaign play on monitors. And in the corner of the store, painted black and yellow to reflect the brand's color scheme, kids bounce around in an oversize dog bed and toss around a giant bone. In another corner, designed to look like a house with transparent walls, an attendant is recording a family's dog story that later will be shared on the Web site dogsrule.com. A few feet away, shoppers examine products -- from scarves and T-shirts to dog bowls and leashes -- adorned with Pedigree's three-year-old "Dogs rule" advertising tagline. Nearby, visitors use computers to upload pictures of their pooches into the "Million Dog Mosaic," also featured on dogsrule.com.

Watching the day's activities unfold, TBWA\Chiat\Day creative director Chris Adams, who created the campaign with partner Margaret Keene and is visiting the store for the first time, remarks, "I think this is the coolest thing we've ever done." Since its debut in 2005, the "Dogs rule" effort has amassed industry accolades, including Kelly and Effie awards. Adams is excited to see the physical manifestation of the communications effort come to life in the store. "After three years we have enough of a story to tell," he says. "We have become a brand not just about the food but everything that makes the world better for dogs."

Pedigree's adoption drive was launched in conjunction with the first "Dogs rule" advertising campaign in 2005 and has raised $3.5 million to date for about 3,500 shelters across the country. This year Pedigree's fund-raising efforts have expanded to 14 markets around the world and are benefitting its own recently formed nonprofit, called the Pedigree Adoption Drive Foundation. Rob Leibowitz, vp, marketing of Pedigree parent Mars Petcare, says the foundation demonstrates another way that Pedigree is living up to its brand promise.

Shortly after TBWA began working on the brand in 2004, client and agency teams traveled to Pedigree's Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England. After immersing the company in the agency's famous disruption strategy sessions, the client embraced a statement written by TBWA chairman and chief creative officer Lee Clow: "If you convince me you love dogs, I'll let you feed mine." Leibowitz says that motto has influenced everything about the way the company behaves, both externally and internally.

"Dog food brands were missing the emotional high ground," Clow says. Ads focused on product shots and either fell into cartoon-like expressions of dogs or scientific explanations of how the food benefitted canine health. None talked about what makes dogs and their relationships with their owners special. "We told them, 'People who have dogs love their dogs. Why wouldn't you be a brand that loves dogs and have it motivate everything you do?"

Pedigree had long relied upon its "developed with vets, recommended by top breeders" positioning with ads that focused on the food, and the company was ready for change. "Just making that statement and hoping that by itself it would keep us in the leadership position wasn't the way to go. We make good food for dogs, but just saying that and expecting people to believe us wasn't enough," says Leibowitz. "It got us to do some soul searching about the brand, the corporation and what we really stand for."

The tagline "'Dogs rule' is the perfect encapsulation of everything that we stand for," adds Leibowitz. "Everything that we do is because we love dogs, because dogs rule. It's just so simple."

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