So Alpo, now owned by Purina, part of Swiss food giant Nestlé’s brand portfolio, recently embarked on a brand advertising campaign it hopes will send a clear message to dog owners: “Real Dogs Eat Meat.” The campaign is built around photos of macho-looking dogs, accompanied by equally macho headlines. Two examples:
AL SAYS, “REAL DOGS RIDE IN PICKUPS, NOT PURSES.”
AL SAYS, “DOGS IN STROLLERS? DESIGNER DOG FOODS? WAKE ME WHEN IT’S OVER.”
“Al,” says one of the ads, is “the voice of real dogs. He’s tired of watching dogs being drawn into the crazy complications of everyday human life. Enough of decorator collars, doggie day care, playdates and food that’s better suited to a science lab than a dog dish. Al thinks it’s time to get back to the business of dog being dogs.”
If that’s not blunt enough, the brand’s website reinforces the theme with a picture of a big bruiser and the statement, AL SAYS, “KEEP IT SIMPLE PEOPLE.” The website includes a supporting video, and a downloadable tongue-in-cheek e-book that has stories about “real dogs” (told in their voices, of course) who “let you know where they’ve been” and “scratch when and where they want,” among other things. The e-book is described as a “Real Dogs Eat Meat Handbook,” ostensibly for dogs to learn how real dogs behave, but it’s a subtle way to poke fun at dog owners who pamper their dogs and may feed them new-fangled dog food.
Clearly, “Al” is not just the voice of real dogs, it is the new voice of the Alpo brand. What that voice is doing, it seems, is expressing a kind of back-to-basics philosophy reinforcing “real meat” dog food without all the fancy frills and fillers. Historically, Alpo has been known for its all-meat content, so the campaign appears to be on target.
The “Real Dogs Eat Meat” approach began in February 2009, when the ad agency Fallon, which handles other Purina dog food brands, was selected to give a boost to Alpo’s marketing. The campaign’s first iteration showed dogs being ridiculously pampered by their owners; one ad, for example, featured a photo of a dog with cucumbers on her eyes, surrounded by candles, and laying back in a bubble bath. These ads were accompanied by the headline, QUICK, GET THAT DOG SOME ALPO. The campaign was supported by video on Hulu.com and a special minisite on the web.
When the ads started to run, Kara Peterson, group account director at Fallon, told Brandweek, “Dogs haven’t changed, but people have overcomplicated” dogs’ lives. “Our mission is to give dogs their dogness back.” Art director Dean Hanson added, “Everybody is guilty of putting human personality on dogs. It seemed like a natural to take this very solid substantial dog food and say it’s time to wake up and get back to fundamentals.” While the underlying strategy remains the same in the current campaign, the visuals have now evolved to “real dogs,” with Al as their “voice.”
The campaign may be high-impact, but Alpo still faces an uphill battle in the new competitive dog food environment. In Alpo’s early days, consumers had a scant few choices of dog food. Now the dog food section can take up half an aisle at a traditional grocery store – never mind the proliferation of gourmet and specialty dog foods available in pet stores. Competition also comes from veterinarians, who offer some specialized foods that are unavailable through retail channels, and from mail order companies marketing customized blends or raw food alternatives.
Purina itself makes seven different brands of dog food in addition to Alpo, including Beneful, Chef Michael’s, Dog Chow, Mighty Dog, and Purina ONE. The trick is to differentiate Alpo from these other brands, as well as outside competitors. To get its fair share of the market, Alpo needs to appeal to a particular segment of the dog-owning population.
Purina is hoping the “Al” campaign can break through the dog food brand clutter and target the humans who want to feed their “real dogs” real meat. Of course, if the decision to buy was left up to the dogs, it would be no contest.