How do you bring about behavioural change among irresponsible dog walkers without demonising them?
The South Downs National Park is a great place to walk your dog. Following England’s South East coastline, it’s a wonderful varied landscape that stretches 87 miles from the wooded hills around Winchester to the immense chalk cliffs at Beachy Head. With close proximity to dense coastal development, it’s a perfect escape for urbanites to get out and throw a stick for their canine friends. In fact of the 39 million visitors to the South Downs every year, a third are accompanied by their dog.
For the most part, this is a good thing, but there are downsides. Poo of course is high up there. More seriously, with 85% of the park being farmed, there have been devastating incidences of sheep worrying, where large numbers die from shock, or abort lambs. In heathland areas, dogs are a menace to ground-nesting birds, and the dogs can be at risk too. Frightened cattle will attack curious pets, farmers can shoot a dog if their animals are threatened, and on military heathland, dogs are in danger during training maneuvers.
The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) reached out to creative agencies to help change bad dog walking behaviour, and amid stiff competition, Tilt won the pitch. Our proposal was for a multi-disciplined, 6 month awareness campaign to gain prolonged audience engagement. It covered film, digital banners, print promotion and point of sale, a competition via social media channels, and an Ambassador recruitment campaign. These elements were collected within a campaign hub on the South Downs National Park website, encouraging people to find out more about responsible dog walking.
Public engagement campaigns that simply rely on facts and figures, often struggle to bring about behavioural change, by failing to engage hearts and minds. With dog ownership in particular, we recognised that it was important to make sure that the message wasn’t reinforcing negative dog stereotypes. We shaped our thinking as follows:
Building on previous successes
Back in 2015, Tilt produced an animation called Take The Lead (TTL) which had been really successful in communicating the virtues of responsible dog ownership. We interviewed dog owners in the national park and used the audio recordings to create a comical ‘Creature Comforts’ inspired animation; We see cartoon dogs speak the words of their owners – flipping roles, so dogs are discussing their owners’ bad antics. The key to the success of this piece was overtly showing that responsible behaviour starts with the owner. Irresponsible behaviour is portrayed with ridicule, and through the medium of slapstick comedy, people can laugh along, while being gently reminded of what not to do.
In 2015, the issues we tackled were limited to livestock and poo. During the workshop phase with SDNPA for a new Take The Lead campaign, we first identified important additional issues. These were:
With this in mind, we put on our boots and coats, and headed out along the length of the downs to meet the target audience. We wanted to understand how they felt about responsible dog walking – particularly focusing on the new issues that had been identified – and to record their thoughts. This not only informed our creative approach to the new campaign as a whole, but also provided audio for an updated Take The Lead animation to spearhead the new campaign.
There was a specific requirement for film content, which would serve to both communicate the TTL messaging and also celebrate the beauty of the South Downs to inspire visitors. In our brainstorming sessions around how this might complement the TTL 2017 animation, we loved the idea of the dogs as comical reformed criminals, recounting their doggy misdemeanors. Something that initially inspired our thinking was reformed cockney gangster Tony Beckton – a character from an old Bellamy’s People episode. We also loved homemade YouTube gems like Run Walter Run – filmed from a GoPro dog mount, and watched over 17 million times by dog lovers.
Working closely with the client, we designed, scripted and produced a suite of films entitled Canine Confessions, recruiting our doggy stars and their owners from real download dog walkers whom we approached at specific scenic spots. The dogs are seen on their regular South Downs walk, but we hear fictional audio monologues as they talk about their criminal pasts – like in a AA meeting. Released as episodes over the period of a few months – corresponding to times of year when particular issues are relevant – each film set about tackling a TTL topic at a specific hero downland location, through the medium of comedy.
In our first film we meet Bedlington Terrier ‘Frazzles’ at the iconic Coastguard Cottages overlooking the magnificent Seven sisters. He tells us in a yokel accent “…My name’s Frazzles, and I’m a compulsive sheep botherer…”.
Next there’s Old English Sheepdog ‘Candice’ who only heads over the heath with “Our Gav” to “get back in time for a poached egg in front of Loose Women”. Candice concludes “…[ground-nesting] Birds…They’re alright once you get to know ‘em”.
In the third film, Felicity is an upper class lady Labrador who tells how she used to “pop-out a dirty and trot on”, and in the fourth film, urban wannabe Tiddles (AKA T Diddy) and his crew, remember fallen gang member Grizla at Longmoor Camp. He tells how Grizla was “dogmeat” after straying onto an MOD firing range following a bungled raid on a picnic – “…but they had pork pies Bruv, c’mon!”
We treated the four doggy stars as champions for each topic, like mini brands within the campaign. Each real dog was illustrated as a cartoon character, in the style of the Take The Lead animation to top and tail the films and to use throughout all TTL communications.
Meet the real dogs and owners
Each of the four Canine confessions films were paired with an accompanying interview with each particular dog’s owner. The idea was ‘now we’ve got your attention, here’s the serious part’. In these short videos, owners introduce their real dog (rather than the fictional character their dog played), and talk about the issues covered in the Canine Confession film. These are genuine words from a real, regular dog walker in a particular area. From the off, we insisted on not using trained dogs / actors, so that the interviews don’t feel contrived or preachy – instead being heart-felt, from dog owner to dog owner.
#TakeTheLeadTo photo competition
To stimulate engagement with our target demographic, we put together a photo competition through Twitter and Instagram, pulled into a focal page on the SDNPA site. The #TakeTheLeadTo hashtag was inspired by the #FollowMeTo campaign, where a couple documented their travels around the world via a unique POV camera perspective. Using a similar POV perspective, we encouraged walkers to share photos that showed their dog on lead, guiding the responsible owner out on the South Downs, with pet-related prizes donated by south downs partners. In this way, the core campaign message is being hammered home in every shot, and the message is exponentially aggregated by encouraging friends to vote on the pictures with likes, or go out and shoot their own competition entries. Here are the fantastic winning photos.
Take the Lead Pawsport
The Pawsport was born out of the need for print collateral with an enduring lifespan. It’s a useful 55mm x 85mm gatefold card for dog owners to carry in their wallets. Owners add important information such as microchip number, pet insurance details and contacts in case of an emergency. Decorated with the campaign branding, the Pawsport also lists the key TTL topics as paw print bullet points.
Other print collateral
Car stickers offered the opportunity for prolonged exposure, promoting the TTL campaign from vehicle windows – really useful when stationed in South Downs dog walking car parks. We produced a range of stickers showing TTL branded illustrations of different dog breeds (for owners to choose their favourite), with the slogan ‘I’m a responsible dog walker’ as badge of honour for responsible ownership.
For SDNPA/National Trust stands, attractions, visitor centres, events and businesses, we produced point of sale items such as DL leaflets and posters.
Take the Lead discovery map
We have previously created a South Downs interactive ‘Discovery Map’ featured on the SDNPA website using the Google Maps api. Visitors apply checkbox filters to hide/unhide pinpoints of particular activities of interest on the South Downs map. Building on the technology we‘d already implemented, a specific Take The Lead discovery map link provided the map with only the relevant filters selected. New pins and data were added, offering additional specific advice for dog walkers.
These were MPU, Leaderboard and Skyscraper banners, reflecting the print artwork – created in After Effects and exported as optimised animated gifs. Seeded to keep the campaign front and centre, the banners’ push people towards the TTL campaign pages – in particular the Canine Confessions films and photo competition.
Keeping with the ‘ground up’ TTL mentality (rather than as a set of imposed rules), we designed a initiative to enlist responsible Dog Walking Ambassadors at key South Downs sites. The dog walkers we have met on the downs, tend to enjoy socialising with other dog owners, and the scheme sets out to attract local ambassadors to chat to people whilst out and about, sharing views and posting user generated content.
“Tilt were as excited about the take the lead campaign as we were. They listened carefully to our brief and immersed themselves in the project so they really understood the challenges we face and the reasoning behind our key messages. They channelled their spirit, energy and enthusiasm to capture the exact messaging we needed in a really clear, professional and fun way. Most importantly we now have campaign material which has a lasting legacy that can be used for years to come.”
Katy Sherman, SDNPA
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