How do you bring about behavioural change among irresponsible dog walkers without demonising them?
Create a mixed media campaign that uses a playful, warm tone to deliver a serious message - the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
The South Downs National Park is an idyllic environment for dog walking. Following England’s South East coastline, it’s a wonderfully 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.
For the most part, this is a good thing, but there are downsides. Poo, of course, is high up on the list. 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 manoeuvres.
Public engagement campaigns that simply rely on scare-mongering facts and figures, often struggle to bring about behavioural change because they fail to engage people emotionally. With dog ownership in particular, we recognised that it was important to make sure that the message wasn’t reinforcing negative stereotypes.
We shaped our thinking as follows:
Taking a positive approach – securing engagement through themes that are important to dog walkers themselves, followed by messages about responsible behaviour once we have the audience’s attention.
Framing the messaging as social norms – what is acceptable and what isn’t as part of changing attitudes and beliefs.
Emphasise the responsibility of the dog walker – acknowledge the value and importance of dogs to their walkers, while showing that a ‘dogs will be dogs’ attitude is unacceptable.
Showing how easy it is to make the change and the difference that will make – something that everyone feels they can contribute to, with direct results in protecting the national park.
Prioritising the consequences to the dog – emphasising to dog walkers that lack of responsibility leads to negative consequences e.g. dog bans in certain areas, and dogs being legally shot.
Take the Lead
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 speaking their owners words – 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.
We loved the idea of the dogs as comical reformed criminals, recounting their doggy misdemeanours; and so Canine Confessions was born. We designed, scripted and produced a suite of films, then recruiting our doggy stars and owners from the 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 an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Released as episodes over a few months, each film set about tackling a behavioural topic at a specific hero downland location, through the medium of comedy.
Interviews with the Owers
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 using untrained stars (both the dogs and actors) so that the interviews feel relatable and heart-felt, rather than contrived or preachy from dog owner to dog owner.
#taketheleadto social campaign
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 the lead, guiding the responsible owners 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
PRINTED CAMPAIGN 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 a badge of honour for responsible ownership.
We also produced leaflets for the SDNP visitor centers and a “Pawsport”; which carried 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.
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 faced and the reasoning behind our key messages. They channelled their spirit, energy and enthusiasm to capture the exact messaging 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 ACTIVITIES & ENGAGEMENT OFFICER