Fewer sad dogs on TV mean more sad dogs in real life

Here’s a sad tale of personal preference winning out over effective communication, as told in the Washington Post: Wagging tails replace sad eyes: New sponsor for Westminster show to run happier dog ads.

Sadpuppy

Last month’s Westminster dog show (a very big deal for the designer-dog set) changed sponsors. The previous long-time sponsor showed shelter-dog adoption ads with sad, caged dogs who clearly need help. The new sponsor’s ads show happy, healthy dogs running on the beach.

The reason for the change? The Westminster folks didn’t like the old sad-dog ads:

Show me an ad with a dog with a smile. Don’t try to shame me. We told them that and they ignored us. Our show is a celebration of dogs…. When we’re seeing puppies behind bars, it takes away from that. Not just because it’s sad, but it’s not our message.

I’m assuming that helping get as many dogs as possible out of shelters and into homes is a goal of Westminster. If that’s the case, then they traded away that goal in exchange for feeling better about what they aired on TV. They decided that the downer visual of sad dogs is a worse thing than the downer of real dogs not getting adopted. Better to feel good than do good.

Now I have no knowledge about the marketing of shelter-pet adoption. For all I know, happy-dog imagery actually drives more people to adopt than sad-dog imagery.

But I doubt it.

If motivating people to adopt dogs is anything like motivating them to give financially to good causes, then showing the problem you want them to solve is exponentially more effective than showing the problem already solved.

Many, many nonprofits choose the same trade-off: Upbeat, positive messaging that makes insiders feel good over the messaging that motivates outsiders to act and move the cause forward. That is an utterly irresponsible choice.

Every nonprofit I know of exists to accomplish its mission. Not to stroke the egos of its employees.

If you are serious about your cause, and you need others to support you, you’re just going to have to get used to effectively communicating with them — often at the expense of your own taste, preferences, and liking. That’s how the big boys play.


Comments

6 responses to “Fewer sad dogs on TV mean more sad dogs in real life”

  1. Marina Avatar

    Call me a pessimist, but I also question the dog show’s motivation behind this. As promoters of purebred dogs, the show doesn’t necessarily want millions of viewers introduced to the problem of homeless dogs being euthanized in shelters. When something like 4 million dogs are euthanized in the US every year do to lack of homes, who can justify buying a purebred dog from a breeder? I’m sure the motivation behind pulling the sponsor was much more about self-interest than about the happiness of their viewers.

  2. Marina Avatar

    Call me a pessimist, but I also question the dog show’s motivation behind this. As promoters of purebred dogs, the show doesn’t necessarily want millions of viewers introduced to the problem of homeless dogs being euthanized in shelters. When something like 4 million dogs are euthanized in the US every year do to lack of homes, who can justify buying a purebred dog from a breeder? I’m sure the motivation behind pulling the sponsor was much more about self-interest than about the happiness of their viewers.

  3. Barb S. Avatar

    I wildly and profoundly disagree with this blog. This isn’t about stroking egos, it’s about showing the positive side of what people can do–how they can change a dog’s life for the better–rather than guilting people into taking action. How many times have you switched the channel to avoid one of those heart-wrenching infomercials showing starving children with bloated bellies and flies on their eyes? Guilt and shame is not an effective (or ethical) fundraising tool. It’s also not reality. I bet most of the animals don’t walk around looking miserable and depressed until someone adopts them.
    This isn’t about showing the problem solved – it’s showing people the power they have in helping dogs. I’d rather feel inspired to help, not guilted into it.

  4. Barb S. Avatar

    I wildly and profoundly disagree with this blog. This isn’t about stroking egos, it’s about showing the positive side of what people can do–how they can change a dog’s life for the better–rather than guilting people into taking action. How many times have you switched the channel to avoid one of those heart-wrenching infomercials showing starving children with bloated bellies and flies on their eyes? Guilt and shame is not an effective (or ethical) fundraising tool. It’s also not reality. I bet most of the animals don’t walk around looking miserable and depressed until someone adopts them.
    This isn’t about showing the problem solved – it’s showing people the power they have in helping dogs. I’d rather feel inspired to help, not guilted into it.

  5. I can give you one big reason why they switched – it works! The change in the way we market pets available for adoption and the way we communicate with our donors is no longer based on the sad face behind bars.
    One major animal rescue really kicked this off for everyone – Austin Pets Alive! (in Austin, TX)(http://www.austinpetsalive.org) . Almost 2 years ago they took a 180 degree approach to how things we being done and never looked back. The result? 30% increase in monthly adoptions, year-over-year, as of May 2010. 100% increase in holiday donations, year-over-year. Online donations have nearly doubled since the campaign launched.
    Their marketing is cute, funny and most of engaging. That is what we want to do with our donors…engage them in our mission. Make every donor see the value and success of their donations – be it money, time or adoptions.
    I applaud the change in marketing. It in no way means that their are less animals that need to be adopted by presenting a “happy” image. We are simply focusing on results.
    Pet overpopulation due to lack of spay/neuter is a problem for every community in the country. It takes an active commitment from our community to even begin to solve the problem. Programs like those at APA! are a model to all us us in rescue.
    p.s. Austin Pets Alive! just won the ASPCA $100K Challenge for 2011 – so they are definitely reaching their goals.

  6. I can give you one big reason why they switched – it works! The change in the way we market pets available for adoption and the way we communicate with our donors is no longer based on the sad face behind bars.
    One major animal rescue really kicked this off for everyone – Austin Pets Alive! (in Austin, TX)(http://www.austinpetsalive.org) . Almost 2 years ago they took a 180 degree approach to how things we being done and never looked back. The result? 30% increase in monthly adoptions, year-over-year, as of May 2010. 100% increase in holiday donations, year-over-year. Online donations have nearly doubled since the campaign launched.
    Their marketing is cute, funny and most of engaging. That is what we want to do with our donors…engage them in our mission. Make every donor see the value and success of their donations – be it money, time or adoptions.
    I applaud the change in marketing. It in no way means that their are less animals that need to be adopted by presenting a “happy” image. We are simply focusing on results.
    Pet overpopulation due to lack of spay/neuter is a problem for every community in the country. It takes an active commitment from our community to even begin to solve the problem. Programs like those at APA! are a model to all us us in rescue.
    p.s. Austin Pets Alive! just won the ASPCA $100K Challenge for 2011 – so they are definitely reaching their goals.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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