A range of media owners are trying to find the sweet spot between ads and editorial. And the likes of MasterChef NZ and The Block NZ have been able to appeal to commercial interests without alienating the viewers. TVNZ's latest effort in this regard is Purina Pound Pups to Dogstars, a programme that arose from its million dollar branded content initiative and is currently in production.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, of course, and SPCA/Mini's Driving Dogs campaign was based around a similar premise, where rescue dogs were trained up to drive a car in an effort to remove a perception that they were a bit thick and weren't worth adopting. The appropriately named animal wrangler Mark Vette was involved in DraftFCB's project and he's back for TVNZ's ten episode half-hour reality series, which is scheduled to start next year in peak time and will serve as a lead in to the 8.30 slot.
Two thirds of New Zealand households have a cat or a dog, one of the highest pet ownerships per capita in the world. And the pet industry is going bonkers at the moment. So on paper it seems like there should be a good audience of pet lovers keen to see the canine transformation take place.
When we talked with head of sales Jeremy O’Brien before TVNZ's new season launch, he said the project had been in progress for a good six to eight months with Purina and Screentime.
"Basically, there was a loose opportunity around the proposal. They hadn’t specifically briefed us to say 'we want to make a show'. They said 'we want to bring the values of the brand to life and we want to do it in an unique way'. So we suggested trying to make a show and it went from here. The thing that made it seamless and easy was that there was a great fit between the brand and its focus on animal welfare, well-being and nutrition and the show itself, which shows the helpless states these animals get into and the fact that it can be turned around. We think this will be something New Zealanders are going to fall in love with and we have confidence in what Mark [Vette] will be able to do."
He says it's obviously a lot more difficult to create a show that will serve a commercial function for the advertiser and also bring in the ratings. And it's a lot more resource intensive for the broadcasters than simply selling an ad inbetween (although as 'Gary' points out in a good comment under Liam Dann's opinion piece about Twitter on the Herald, turning television into 'adavision' shouldn't be seen as a positive thing). But advertisers are demanding more and Purina’s head of marketing Jennifer Chappell says it decided to sign on because it is "guided by a passion for pets and we're committed to using our scale and leadership in pet care to do more than just donate".
"We want to work with pet welfare experts, to inspire pet lovers to get more involved, to change perceptions of shelter pets and to create more powerful bonds between pets and people. That's why we are so excited to be part of this incredible project."
What the dogs will be trained to do is unclear, but feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.
Speaking of TVNZ, it's about to move a big chunk of staff into the Telecom building. Perhaps fittingly, its inhouse creative team Blacksand has added a few scribbles to the logo so it shares some similarities to Telecom's much-discussed spark.