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.

CREDITS

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