Q&A: Margaret Keene

LOS ANGELES Maybe W.C. Fields was wrong about working with four-legged thespians. When TBWA\Chiat\Day creative directors Margaret Keene and Chris Adams shot Pedigree’s “Crazy Pets” 2009 Super Bowl commercial with a rhinoceros, an ostrich, a hog and a water buffalo, the exotic animal actors performed like pros, no La Lohan. (OK, they might have chewed on some scenery.)
 
The effort, which eschewed the idea of selling chow to focus on the plight of pups available for adoption from shelters, is the first Super Bowl spot in the brand’s five-year relationship with the Los Angeles ad agency.

TBWA\C\D’s Keene shared her experiences:
 
So, how do you get Rusty the Rhino to run on command?

It’s really, really difficult. Our Pedigree client … John Anton [director of brand marketing] was great. He knew we were going to get whatever great animals we got and then we might have to build a great animal into the script. So we scripted out a bunch of crazy animals and we knew that when we talked to the production company that those guys would only have certain animals available. We originally had a whole scenario with a hippo, but we found out that hippos are like the most dangerous animals on earth. Then they said they had this great rhino … The rhino trainer, you could do a whole Animal Planet series on him. He had an ATV and he’d call him just like a dog and he’d drive this ATV around the studio and the rhino would follow him. He was really sweet.
 
Did he have to dangle treats or anything?

Nope. He was just trained like a dog. We kind of hoped he’d flip out a little and crash into things, but he just followed him and we said, “Man, he isn’t going to break anything.” But he was a big guy. The first couple of times he’d stop in the middle of the living room because he didn’t want to hurt anything. He was trying to be good and not bust through stuff.

Who was the most difficult on the shoot?

The ostrich was probably my favorite. The ostrich lady Arleigh [Castle, the actress in the scene] is like 83, and she ran back and forth around 50 times. At one point, the ostrich started getting tired and she was pushing him in the behind — she wasn’t afraid at all. I guess when your 83 you have no fear. She finally just pushed him through the garden. Arleigh was our Clara Peller.

What kind of consumer research did you and Pedigree do to make sure you were taking the right tone and message to capture the 2009 zeitgeist in a Super Bowl ad?

When we first began, the economy wasn’t in the kind of trouble it is now. The sentiment was just beginning. We had a bunch of spots and we put them in front of people — we showed them some pretty serious adoption stuff, too. It was almost unanimous. People said, “Listen, this is the only party I’m going to have all year — please don’t bum us out. We’re just there to play and be entertained and enjoy ourselves.” It was something we already knew, but just needed a little more intelligence on. People were pretty emphatic about it: “Just make me laugh hysterically.” And in retrospect, I don’t think we could have done better.

Are you getting good feedback?

Yes, it’s been great. I think we were No. 7 in the USA Today poll. My friends are e-mailing me that their kids liked it. The clients are super stoked. Usually this time of year we are in shelters shooting shelter dogs, listening to dogs wail. It was kind of a treat to go another way for a change.