ROI: One of their best years ever, with 10% sales growth and 2.4 million new households purchases . 

 The Challenge:  People Don’t Want a Relationship With Your Product

The reality of a social media campaign is that if people are really not interested in a relationship with a box of dog food, how can you realistically expect them to have an engaged relationship with intangible financial services products?

“The challenge for us was that people don’t want a relationship with a box of Milk-Bone, but they do want one with a puppy.”—Doug Chavez, senior manager of digital marketing at Del Monte Foods

Milk-Bone learned how to leverage their brand to meet business objectives by taking advantage of people’s identification with the emotional impact pets make on people’s lives.

A Dogged Strategy

Campaign Overview:

The campaign, extensively reported by, among others, eMarketer and B2C,   teamed Milk-Bone (a Del Monte brand)  with its longtime charitable partner, Canine Assistants, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, which trains and provides service dogs to people with disabilities or other special needs, on a campaign called “It’s Good to Give.” The company gave a percentage of every box purchased to the charity.

The campaign was created by Draft FCB, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, with a budget estimated at more than $10 million. The ads began appearing on Sept. 21 and ran through the spring.  Other agencies working on the campaign, in addition to Draft FCB, are Starcom Worldwide in Chicago, part of the Starcom MediaVest Group division of the Publicis Groupe, for media buying, and Catalyst:SF in San Francisco, the digital agency of record for Del Monte, for executing the interactive part of the campaign.

Campaign Objectives:

  • Generate national attention for “It’s Good to Give” campaign.
  • Raise the profile of Canine Assistants on a grassroots level.
  • Drive viewers to the PBS documentary by creating widespread media attention.

Campaign Strategies:

  • Use the Milk-Bone brand’s long absence from television to create buzz for new advertising campaign.
  • Leverage Canine Assistants recipient’s stories in their local communities.
  • Secure A-List celebrity narrator to drive national interest in documentary.
  • Create compelling angles to place the documentary story on the TV pages and beyond.

Campaign Execution:

  • The “It’s Good to Give” campaign kicked off in September 2009 with national advertising spots.  Knowing the significance of this return to television after a ten year absence, Coyne PR arranged an exclusive interview withThe New York Times to hit the same week as the advertisements debuted.  Trade media was then targeted to continue the buzz about the new campaign.
  • Coyne PR developed a list of local recipients to pitch to their local media markets, training and interviewing each recipient to compile their unique stories, which highlighted the challenges they face due to their disabilities and the relationship they share with their assistance dogs.
  • As the air date for a documentary, “Through a Dog’s Eyes” drew closer, Neil Patrick Harris signed on as narrator.
  • Knowing it would be difficult to keep the brand in the AP, an AP photographer was hired, ensuring that Milk-Bone was mentioned as the documentary sponsor in the photo cutline.  Coyne PR also offered “EXTRA” the broadcast exclusive on Harris’ documentary role.
  • Coyne PR developed a comprehensive media strategy that included outreach to TV critics, pets, features, lifestyle and celebrity writers.  Working with Canine Assistants, they compiled a list of recipients across the country so that a local angle could be offered up to reporters.
  • When the documentary became available, extensive media outreach began to daily newspapers, online news outlets and bloggers.  Each outlet was offered interviews with Jennifer Arnold, Canine Assistants founder, and a recipient featured in the documentary or a local Canine Assistants recipient, all of whom were trained to deliver brand messaging and discuss the special.
  • Coyne PR arranged a syndicated story with Tribune Media Services, whose writer wrote a large feature piece after an in-person interview with Jennifer Arnold and included the documentary in his “Best Bets” column the week of the documentary airing.  Restricted to just one day, the team pitch Neil Patrick Harris to the top national broadcast outlets and scheduled segments with “The View” and “The CBS Early Show” the Monday prior to the documentary airing.
  • While brand messaging was not the objective, Coyne PR worked to keep the brand in the story by training Jennifer Arnold, Canine Assistants founder, to deliver the message that Milk-Bone, a long time funder of the organization, had sponsored the documentary.

A Social Animal

The most prominent elements of the integrated marketing strategy included TV commercials and a Facebook fan page,  under the label “It’s Good to Give Milk-Bone,” which is tracking the progress of a service dog in training named Noble, a lab and golden mix puppy. Photographs and brief text reports have been posted since Sept. 10 and more than 660 people on Facebook have become fans.

The media mix included:

  • The first television commercials for Milk-Bone in several years.
  • Print advertising.
  • Ads in coupon inserts in Sunday newspapers.
  • Information on the Milk-Bone Web site (milk-bone.com or milkbone.com).
  • A primetime PBS documentary, “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” which Milk-Bone agreed to be the exclusive sponsor of, highlighting Canine Assistants and the incredible impact they have on the lives of people with disabilities.
  • Elements in social media like Facebook, Flickr,Twitter and YouTube. Users of Twitter can follow the brand through #Milkbone.

Results To Bark About

The ROI: Milk-Bone had one of its best years ever, with 10% sales growth and 2.4 million new households purchasing Milk-Bone treats year over year. 

The brand’s “I Give TV commercial was the highest scoring pet ad ever produced, landing within the top 1% of 65,000 ads tested through Ipsos ASI since 1962, according to Jason Wehner, senior brand manager at Milk-Bone. The success of the campaign has been so great that it has been widely reported in media outlets including this New York Times article. More results:

  • The campaign generated 1,393 stories and over 1 billion media impressions.
  • The resulting CPM was 43 cents.
  • 75% of stories included brand messaging.
  • Canine Assistants web traffic increased 700% the week before the documentary
  • Canine Assistants added 300 donors to its database the week after the documentary.
  • Over 50,000 YouTube views of the trailer 2 days before the documentary.
  • Viewership for “Through a Dog’s Eyes” was 30% higher than the national average for a PBS primetime show; 113% above average in NYC, PBS’ toughest market; and more than 100% above in other large markets such as San Diego, and Minneapolis.
  • The local outreach generated stories for Canine Assistants in major outlets, including The Washington PostArizona RepublicAtlanta Journal-Constitution, PeoplePets.com, and New York Daily News Online.
  • The documentary received extensive coverage with television critics and pet/feature writers.

Teaching New Tricks to an Old Brand

Milk-Bone is so dominant in its category that dog owners talk about “a Milk-Bone” regardless of the brand.  Milk-Bone® has been the category leader in dog biscuits for more than 100 years – so much so that the brand was entering into a dangerous territory – commoditization.  It was evident to brand leadership that they needed a clear point of differentiation for Milk-Bone. According to Christie Fleming, vice president for marketing at Del Monte, it was time to wake the sleeping giant:

“As we thought about the next generation of growth, reminding consumers why they should continue to purchase Milk-Bone is critically important to us, because they have not been buying the brand as frequently as we would like them to.”

Emphasizing the “Emotional” along with “Functional”

The term “pet parents” is used by marketers of pet foods and products to denote the devoted pet owners who treat their pets like children. The idea of playing up the emotional aspects of the brand is encapsulated in this language on the home page of milk-bone.com:

“When you give the wholesome goodness of Milk-Bone dog snacks, you’re giving more than cleaner teeth and fresher breath. That’s because every time you buy Milk-Bone dog snacks, a portion of the proceeds goes to help the Canine Assistants organization.”

Cause Marketing is Key in Social Media Campaigns

“Cause marketing, we believe, will work well,” Ms. Fleming says,  “because of the emotional connection pet parents have with their pets. Service dogs and what they can do for their recipients is a very compelling story to help consumers think about Milk-Bone in a new light.”

Cause marketing is a good way to woo consumers in tough times because, according to  Sean Hardwick, senior vice president and group management director at the Irvine office of Draft FCB, “my personal view is that there’s only so much value advertising people will accept in this climate. There’s tons of ‘save this’ and ‘dollars off’ that,” he adds. “I think people will welcome a respite from it.”

In other words, research continues to show that consumers are put off by “push marketing” and comoditization.  They want to establish an emotional connection with a brand that involves mutual dialogue and personally meaningful interests.

The link between heartfelt giving and the attention that consumers lavish on their pets forms a perfect synergy.

“In Dog We Trust”

Focusing the campaign on cause marketing was not the first concept considered by Draft FCB, says Sean Hardwick, senior vice president and group management director at the Irvine office.

“We went through a number of different creative approaches before landing on this one,” Mr. Hardwick says, which he summarizes as “doing something good for your dog and something good for the planet, if you will. In dog we trust.”

However, as altruistic as cause-marketing campaigns may be, you’ve got to be pretty clear why you want people to buy the product.  And this advertising makes it clear that pets will be getting superior nutrition through Milk-Bone products.

Snap! Principle of Integrated Marketing:

Establish rigorous synergies of brand personality, message,  cause, and consumer-based emotional connection in a well integrated campaign with broad outreach.



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