Incredible Pedigree Film Profiles Ex-Cons Who Find Their Way by Adopting Dogs

New 'Feel the Good' campaign

"You save a dog. A dog saves you."

That's the poignant message of "First Days Out," a four-minute online film for Pedigree by Almap BBDO in Brazil that follows Joey and Matt, two former inmates who begin to turn their lives around after they adopt rescue dogs.

Joey, who served 12 years for armed robbery, finds the world transformed, and in some ways unrecognizable, after his release. At first he's alone, confused and frightened about his future, but a trip to the pound changes everything.

"Having a dog with me in this house was so much better," he says. "Sadie became my family." Soon, he's training kennel dogs for adoption.

Matt, who served two years for burglary, is initially estranged from his father and reluctant to connect with others. At one point, he draws a heartbreaking parallel between his own life (inside and out of prison) and the lives of the dogs in the animal shelter: "They all looked kind of sad, just like I was—just caged in." After adopting Jeanie, he feels as if his "future's bright again," and he starts going on job interviews and brings the dog to meet his dad.

The immensely moving documentary, directed in a relaxed, naturalist style by Ricardo Mehedff via Hungry Man, is part of Pedigree's new "Feed the Good" campaign, its first global push in several years.

"By nourishing the lovable innocence in every dog, Pedigree helps feed the good they bring to the world," explains Leonid Sudakov, CMO of Mars Global Petcare.

That same theme informs all campaign elements, which include TV, print, online, in-store and social media. Of course, interpretations will vary. For example, a 30-second spot by Colenso BBDO in Australia, titled "Good Fight," feels more like a typical "commercial" than "First Days Out." Still, its quirky take on an a street fight about to happen is far from typical pet-food ad fare.

We chatted about "First Day Out" with Mehedff and his brother Alex, who produced it.

AdFreak: "First Day Out" sort of takes the "cute puppy" commercial in a fresh, more meaningful direction. Can you speak to that a bit?

Alex: Advertising is moving into this new territory of content storytelling. A more emotional engagement. With this in mind, we need to approach the narrative of the film differently. The creative [idea] behind this film is just brilliant. That moved us in a big way to get involved and tell a moving story.

Anytime you move away from the "typical" creatively—and hats off to the agency for this brilliant idea—it becomes a golden strategy. We're happy to have been able to deliver up to par with the idea. We hope it will move people, engage emotionally with the audience … and place the brand in a very special place.

Take me through the process of putting the project together.

Alex: The process is just deep character research, where you cast real people and see what they can bring to the story. You definitely need a couple of weeks. If you rush this phase, you're dead in the water.

Ricardo: We started nationwide, and were able to get many candidates. Some were inmates who had participated in dog training programs while in prison. This is how we found Joey. He'd done 12 years, and in the last four, he got into the dog training program that, in his owns words, changed his life. When he got out, he was truly alone, and since he spoke so well about dogs, Pedigree helped him adopt a dog for himself. And the incredible thing is, you could really see the change in his spirit and mood. Sadie really brought a smile to his face. The job he got as a dog trainer was directly related to his experience in the dog training programs in prison.

Matt never had any contact with dog training programs in prison. He was just a kid going through a rough patch with his father and having a hard time getting adjusted to life on the outside. Pedigree suggested that he adopt a dog and see what would happen.

What were the biggest challenges in making the film?