“Everything a brand does—from stores to product to packaging to how you feel about that brand—has to be designed,” says Lee Clow of TBWAChiatDay/Los Angeles. Clow’s agency has had a hand in helping to design the brand culture at Apple, adidas, Nissan, and other clients. But one of the agency’s most interesting case studies is Pedigree. When the pet food brand, which is part of the Masterfoods stable, turned to Clow for a new campaign four years ago, he proposed a transformation that went way beyond ads. In effect, he suggested that Pedigree redesign the way the company operates and even the way it thinks about itself.
“With Pedigree, we had to help them to discover their culture and behavior,” Clow said in a recent interview with one.design. “Over the years, we’ve kind of formalized how we believe iconic brands are created—and the first piece involves understanding what a brand truly believes, as opposed to what it makes or sells. In the case of Pedigree, we felt the belief system should be, ‘Everything we do is for the love of dogs.’”
It was a credo that rang true in terms of the values and the history of the brand (Pedigree was among the first to offer packaged pet food as a healthier alternative to feeding dogs table scraps, and the brand was also known as a favorite among dog breeders). But it hadn’t been expressed in Pedigree’s external communications to the world. And even internally, Pedigree needed to do a better job of instilling the idea among its people that they worked for a company that was focused on the well being of dogs, as opposed to one that just made dog food.
Clow knew that taking this strong emotional direction would be a challenge. “A large packaged-goods company has a tendency to be more left-brain and logical about these things; they’re more used to focusing on the 50-cents off coupon and how many units that will move off the shelf. When I sat down with top Mars folks to talk about this brand, I said, ‘I happen to believe—because I have a very personal relationship with dogs myself—that you guys are operating in a very emotional category here.’” By moving to a much more emotional approach, Clow told the client, “it could provide a springboard into behavior and a way of acting as a brand that would set you apart—and would inform your product development, your packaging, and your actions beyond selling dog food.”
One of the first things the agency did was to design internal communications that would rally the company behind this new belief system. Clow’s creative team on the account, headed by Chris Adams and Margaret Keene, created a manifesto in the form of an elegant company manual titled “Dogma.” Lushly illustrated with photographic portraits of dogs, it laid out the new philosophy in poetic language (some of which ended up appearing in subsequent ads). The Dogma book featured a direct message from Pedigree’s “top dog,” CEO Paul Michaels, basically telling the company’s employees that the company now intended to live by a new set of dog-centric principles, as spelled out in the book.
The Dogma book was just one of the ways the company used design to change its corporate culture. Clow had advised Pedigree that if it intended to be a company for dog-lovers, it should “walk the walk” by implementing dog-friendly policies in its own workplace. The company began to encourage associates to bring their dogs to work—and as part of that effort, the agency helped redesign ID badges and business cards so that they featured images of employees’ dogs. Pedigree also began to extend healthcare benefits to associates’ dogs—opening the door for the company to become an advocate for other companies in other industries to consider doing likewise.
Life at Pedigree changed overnight, as all the offices went to the dogs. Dogs were now part of the workday environment, and portraits of dogs adorned the walls. The company also stepped up its involvement in dog-related issues and causes, most notably its support of shelter dogs. Pedigree developed an annual initiative to encourage people to adopt homeless dogs, and it was an immediate success. In 2008, the third year of the adoption drive program, the agency designed a pop-up dog store in Times Square that featured a dog adoption center and sold “Dogs Rule” merchandise; in one weekend, the Pedigree adoption store brought in 12,000 visitors and resulted in 15 adoptions. Margaret Keene says that she and partner Adams were inspired by the Apple store—“we wanted to create the same feeling of immersion in the brand,” she said. Visitors walked into the building and were surrounded by the manifesto, the giant dog-portrait shots, and most importantly, live dogs—frolicking, having their photos taken, and auditioning for new owners.
The adoption drives have drawn extensive and highly-favorable press coverage for Pedigree. And according to Clow, “What Pedigree has discovered after three years of doing the adoption drives is they actually sell more dog food during that period than any other time of the year—even though the ads during the drive aren’t talking about selling dog food.”
Design also was used to communicate the new Pedigree credo by way of the dog food packaging. “We decided packaging should become a medium and should not only speak to what’s in the bag, but what the company believes,” Clow said. The same emotional dog portraiture that started in the Dogma manifesto and then appeared in ads, also made its way to the dog food bags. Meanwhile, the website was designed to tie all of this together, and invited people to upload photos of their dogs and share their dog stories. In the latest twist on the campaign, the agency convinced Pedigree that it should create an international holiday for dogs, which made its debut this past October 11. The holiday was promoted primarily on the web, with plans for a bigger multimedia push next year.
Pedigree has increased market share during the course of the campaign, and the overall effort has helped the brand to stave off a growing challenge from upscale gourmet brands at the top of the market and private-label offerings at the bottom. But perhaps the biggest payoff is the one Clow observed in the people who work for the company. “They used to come to work every day thinking they worked for a dog food company,” he said, “and now they come in thinking they work for a company that loves dogs.”