If it Barks

If it meows, baahs, or moos, we can’t help you. But if it barks, it’s AKC.

What do goats, cows, and pangolins (??) have in common? They’re all clearly NOT dogs. So if you have questions about them, don’t bother asking the American Kennel Club (AKC). But if you DO need to know anything about your favorite canine companion—for instance, why your boxer scoots his bum across your carpet, or your rescue terrier-mix likes to steal your favorite underwear—the 135-year old not-for-profit organization has you covered. 

That’s the takeaway we aimed to hit home when creating AKC’s first major national brand campaign, “If it Barks, it’s AKC,” which launched yesterday across digital media, Spotify, social, OTT/streaming with a series of four commercials shot by director Dan DeLorenzo and Search & Destroy Films. The goal of the campaign is to help move the organization past it’s “show dog only” perception to be seen as a trusted, accessible, expert resource for all things dog—regardless of breed or background.  

“Over the last two years working with the AKC, our team was able to dive deep into their background, audiences, challenges, and objectives, completing a brand strategy project in 2018, as well as several digital campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of AKC’s various programs, driving event attendance, and reaching a younger audience,” said Katey Parker, VP of Client Services at Media Cause. “With ‘If it Barks’ specifically, our strategy was to leverage all of the insights we discovered—both about the AKC’s mission and values, and dog owners’ needs and beliefs—to create a far-reaching brand campaign that would build connections with all dog lovers through shared values and common ground.”

Kirsten Bahlke, VP of Consumer Demand at the AKC, echoed the sentiment. “Over the years, there have been a lot of misperceptions about who the AKC is as an organization. However, education, responsible dog ownership, and helping people and their pups live their best lives together is really at the core of who we are, and what we do. We believe in the power of the human-canine bond, and we want to foster it in every way possible.” 

So how did the campaign go from strategy to creative concept? 

If it barks

“We knew we couldn’t just create another ‘dogs are great, we love them all’ storyline,” said Amy Small, SVP/Creative + Brand at Media Cause. “It’s true, of course, but there needed to be a stronger, more specific connection to ‘Why AKC?’ to start building brand relevance and equity. The path to the idea was actually pretty simple: AKC has been in the dog world for 135 years, so they’ve encountered pretty much every canine situation imaginable. If you’re curious about your hamster, you’re out of luck. But if it barks, well, it’s AKC.”

To build a content strategy for the campaign that would establish credibility and relatability, we worked with AKC to research dog owners’ digital behaviors and uncover their most common canine conundrums. What came out on top?

“Overall, people seem to struggle in a few prominent areas,” said Bahlke. “Figuring out what kind of dog is right for their lifestyles—not just deciding based on what’s cute, but based on each breed’s unique activity needs, noise levels, shedding—decoding strange dog behaviors, and pretty much anything and everything about training, health, and wellness.” 

Also, not too surprisingly, a lot comes up about poop.

 

Along with positioning AKC as the expert in answering all those questions, the creative team knew they also needed to deliver the message in a way that came across as friendly and approachable. “Humor has an uncanny way of breaking down barriers,” Small added. “We built our campaign stories to reflect the often-comical realities of having, or looking for, a dog…where having a little expert advice, delivered with a wink and a nod, probably couldn’t hurt.”

What does success look like for “If it Barks?” 

“Overall, we hope that dog lovers of all kinds see the campaign, click through to the AKC website, and walk away thinking “They get me. I’m a dog person. They’re dog people. They’re here to help,” noted Parker. “In terms of specifics, we’re looking at ad engagement, click-through rates, time on site, and then also will be measuring brand sentiment once the campaign has had time to breathe. With awareness as our main goal, all of those factors come into play, so it’s important to have a clear measurement plan and KPIs outlined from the start.” (Check out the full campaign.)

Everyone at Media Cause, and the AKC, are excited for the campaign’s potential. “Because we’ve been around dogs for 135 years,” said Bahlke, “we have an incredible depth of knowledge, advice, resources, and support, and this campaign will let everyone know they can come to us for advice, whether their dog is wonderfully purebred or perfectly mixed.” 

Just not if it’s a cat. There are other people for that.