A lost dog poster pasted onto a lamppost has become a standard part of the urban landscape, susurrating in the wind and serving as little more than a reminder of the dog owner's longing. This rudimentary approach has served as the solution to an all-too-common problem for generations, and the continued prevalence of these posters in even the most advanced cities stands as testament to the fact that there is little else available to pet owners who find themselves in these situations.
So, in an effort to facilitate a solution more in line with modern technological capabilities, Pedigree has launched an app that enables dog owners to use their smartphone to find a lost dog.
Dubbed Found and developed by Colenso BBDO in collaboration with Google Australia/New Zealand, the app sends out a pre-registered ‘lost dog’ advertisement via the Google Display Network to anyone located with a 2.5km radius of the owner. In addition, the service will also send out a push notification to registered app users, allowing the dog owner to assemble a veritable army of dog lovers within a second.
Colenso's digital planning director Neville Doyle says that the campaign emerged from a universal problem that dog owners throughout the world face.
"Even though it’s one of those universal things that happens, there’s no set protocol as to what you do," Doyle says. "When your dog is missing, you drive around shouting its name, then after a few days you make some dog posters and you stick them up on lampposts. And then maybe you post a status on Facebook, and all your international friends mention that it’s awful. There’s nothing targeted or quick."
The police trope referencing the importance of the first 48 hours is often dropped into crime dramas to remind viewers of how important it is to act quickly, and this could similarly be applied to lost dogs.
"Every second counts," says Doyle. "And it’s about how we can help you in a way that’s targeted and relevant to you at a time when your dog probably isn’t that far away."
Recent Colenso recruit Ahmad Salim, who now serves as a group business director at the agency, admits that there are some alternatives available on the market, but says he isn't impressed by what he's seen.
"There are some other solutions available in the world, but they’re not particularly effective," Salim says. "There are GPS collars in the works, but at the moment they’re still massive and they’re very expensive. We’re probably a few years away from that being a viable solution."
The difference in this instance is that the app is free and available to anyone who has a smartphone.
"It’s like the democratisation of digital media," says Doyle. "It combines the buying power of Mars and the technology power of Google to solve a problem in a way that I could never have done before ... It’s innovation, but it’s not innovation for the sake of it. It’s taking one of the oldest pieces digital advertising and giving a completely new lease on life."
The initial roll out will see the app's availability limited to Auckland, but Pedigree plans to expand its reach in the near future.
"The hope at Mars global is for this to be something that can roll out in various markets," says Salim. "But obviously, since this is a new piece of technology, we’ll have to trial it first and for this reason, we’ll be focusing on Auckland."
If the app does take off, Doyle believes that it might lessen the load currently resting on the Auckland Council's shoulders: "From their perspective the fewer dogs that end up in shelters, the more resources can be put toward dogs that really need it."
For this reason, Pedigree is working closely with Auckland Council to spread campaign awareness and encourage dog owners and lovers to sign up.
"The campaign launches on Wednesday and we’ll be pushing it out through TV, cinema, outdoor, press, with everything driving through to the app that’s at the heart of the campaign," says Doyle.
So what's in it for Google and Pedigree and why did they deem it worthwhile to invest in something that doesn't drive an immediate profit?
In a previous interview Google Creative's Tom Uglow explained that the value in a for-good project lies in the fact that it's essentially branded content.
"It’s very interesting in the industry that you’re seeing a huge rise in ‘for good’ projects," he said at the time. "It’s content that people feel comfortable engaging in. And it makes everyone in the process feel good about it … and that’s where it’s about value for these brands. It’s not about finding the next Miley Cyrus; it’s about finding the next Malala Yousafzai. Those stories are much more powerful and potent, and you see that coming through the awards shows all the time."
As a corollary of helping to launch the Found App, Google is also able to showcase the effectiveness of its mobile and programmatic advertising technology.
As Roberta Macdonald, the tech company's head of creative agency engagement for Australia and New Zealand, explains: "Mobile is more than just real estate for ads. This project was about using the unique qualities of mobile to solve a problem. When we realised we needed to reach people with a personal message in a short timeframe to a specific geographic location, mobile was the obvious choice."
And this is a powerful message to send to clients and advertising agencies who might be curious as to how Google platforms can be better harnessed to spread messages to a very specific target audience.
And the app also benefits Pedigree, in that it positions it as a company looking out for dogs and their owners.
“Found goes to the heart of what we as a company want to do – help make the world a better place for dogs and dog owners alike," says Leonid Sudakov, the chief marketing officer at Mars Petcare. "The fear of what to do when your dog goes missing is a universal one, and being able to harness the power of digital and mobile to help consumers in their time of need is what makes our job so rewarding.”
Over the past few years, Colenso BBDO has created a number of award-winning creative technology solutions for Pedigree, including Doggelganger, Donation Glasses, K9FM and Sharity. And that's helped it get in Mars' good books. So much so that Pedigree is set to launch a new global positioning via ColensoBBDO in coming months that will see the brand shift from 'being for dogs' to focusing on the good that dogs bring to the world in that they're not judgmental or biased in any way. So, in this sense, this campaign will provide a link from the old positioning to the new one.