Pedigree Remarkably Flips the Script in Its Latest Pet Adoption Ad

Longing to get out of the cage

They press their faces against metal bars, pawing at the doors of their cages, straining to attract a visitor’s attention, hoping to be chosen for a warm, loving forever home.

That’s the basic setup of “Pick Me,” BBDO New York’s latest pet-adoption spot for Pedigree.

Yes, the visuals are designed to play on our emotions, but this isn’t your typical category tearjerker scene, as you’ll discover by checking out the video below:

That’s right, humans are the ones in cages here, vying for a dog’s attention. It’s part of the Mars pet food brand’s ongoing “Feed the Good” initiative, which has produced some compelling work through years.

This effort surely ranks among the campaign’s most memorable outings, subverting and inverting expectations to cast familiar themes in a fresh light.

“When talking about pet adoption, it’s common for people to experience an immediate bond and to even say that their dog ‘picked them,’ or that their dog ‘saved them’ as much as they saved their dog,” Pedigree brand manager Melodie Bolin tells AdFreak. “We wanted to take that feeling and bring it to life in a way that flipped the typical adoption story on its head, showing how a dog can save a person as much as that person can save a dog.”

Playing it straight—within the context of the topsy-turvy premise—gives the spot considerable power. Having people act like dogs—whining or clawing frantically at their environs—would’ve seemed silly. Instead, the folks behave normally. Trapped in cages of malaise, they watch (or ignore) various digital screens, yearning for a release to deeper, more meaningful connections.

“The biggest challenge we faced throughout the entire process was striking the right tonal balance,” says agency senior creative director Greg Gerstner. “We knew that by using an unexpected, and intentionally uncomfortable, visual of human beings in cages, we would immediately create a certain sense of darkness. It’s that darkness that makes this film provocative. But we knew that if we went too dark, it wouldn’t really fit the brand. So we pushed the look of the set, art direction, and film right to the limit.”

The ad was made on a set resembling a typical animal shelter, and the actors were filmed together for the wide/panning shots to make the fantastical concept play out as believably as possible.

“The final piece was ensuring that we captured authentic and subtle performances from our actors,” Gerstner says. “People, like dogs, are different. So, when directing the talent in each cage, we wanted to see a completely different type of person with different characteristics, behavioral patterns and personality.”

Overall, it’s a bold, well-realized conceit, and it should stand up to repeat viewings because the whole scenario, from the opening shot, provides a “twist,” rather than springing its surprise at the end.

Also, the details ring true, as the production team discovered during filming.

“Throughout the day, just looking around the set, you saw everyone was glued to their phone or laptop any chance they got,” recalls agency creative director Banks Noel. “What we noticed most prevalently, though, was that as soon as the dog walked into the room, people had a tendency to instantly look up with smiles and want to engage with the dog and with each other. It was a nice reassurance for us while filming that we were sending the right message to consumers.”

Pedigree – Pick Me
Agency – BBDO New York
Client – Mars/Pedigree
Chief Creative Officer BBDO Worldwide – David Lubars
Chief Creative Officer BBDO New York – Greg Hahn
Executive Creative Director – Greg Ketchum
Executive Creative Director – Tom Godici
Senior Creative Director, Copywriter – Greg Gerstner
Creative Director, Art Director – Banks Noel
Head Of Integrated Production – Dave Rolfe
Executive Producer – Diane Hill
Director of Music & Sound – Rani Vaz
Senior Account Director – Sally Nathans
Account Director – Elizabeth Kelberg
Account Executive – Michael Miles
Group Planning Director – Annermarie Norris
Communications Planning Director – Sean Stogner
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Aaron Stoller
Managing Director: Shawn Lacy
Executive Producer: Holly Vega
Head of Production: Mercedes Allen-Sarria + Rachel Glaub
Producer: Adrianne McCurrach
Director of Photography: Peter Deming
Editor – Ben Jordan, Work Editorial
Audio Mix – Evan Mangiamele, Heard City
Composer – Robert Miller, Screen Sound Alliance
Sound Design – Morgan Johnson, Barking Owl Sound
Telecine Artist – Tom Poole, Company 3
Conform Artist – Mikey Smith, The Mill

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.