I'm no huge fan of Pedigree dog food as something to feed my dogs (though, as a junk food treat, I do use their canned food to stuff frozen kongs from time to time), but this burns me. Westminster is, of course, entitled to make sponsorship deals as it sees fit, but I think it's telling that Westminster doesn't like the idea of people feeling "shamed" by the fact that shelter dogs rot away in droves purely due to the selfishness of people and irresponsible breeders. Note that I said irresponsible.
"The feedback we got from our primary audience was that they were seeing commercials that made them want to turn the channel," Westminster spokesman and longtime TV host David Frei said Thursday.
Nestle Purina PetCare is the new sponsor for America's most prestigious dog competition that begins Monday at Madison Square Garden, replacing Pedigree after 24 years. The switch will bring a shift in the tone of the television commercials that drew nearly as much attention as who won best in show.
Gone will be the haunting music and woeful pictures of dogs with pleading eyes wasting away at the pound, hoping to be adopted. Instead, Purina's main spots will feature dogs running on the beach, catching a Frisbee, frolicking in the snow and riding a surfboard.
Frei said he thought the Pedigree commercials took the wrong approach, backed by viewers who either muted the spots or flipped the channel and didn't turn back.
"Show me an ad with a dog with a smile. Don't try to shame me," he said. "We told them that and they ignored us."
He added: "Our show is a celebration of dogs. We're not promoting purebreds at the expense of non-purebreds. We celebrate all dogs," he said. "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 think that, as hard as it is for some people to accept, many of the Pedigree shelter dog ads are actually a bit celebratory ... of shelter dogs. Check this one out:
I also love that Pedigree has an Adopt-a-Dog page/campaign on its website and sponsors an adoption drive on Facebook. Westminster really couldn't work with Pedigree to come up with commercials that struck the right balance for the audience? I don't buy it. I think that's spin, and they just wanted to keep people from feeling like maybe they shouldn't be buying that "purebred" puppy after all ...
I wonder if Westminster will feel a similar backlash that was felt by Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure when it tried to cut ties with Planned Parenthood. It'd be kind of cool if dog lovers sent them a clear message that their attempt to soft-peddle the shelter dog problem isn't acceptable and sent Pedigree and its adoption campaigns donations, money and support ... I mean, it's not like anyone's expecting Westminster to start promoting shelter dogs or anything. (Just checked the Westminster Kennel Club website and didn't find any obvious links to rescues or shelters or anything of the sort on their homepage. Not that they have to have that kind of thing there, but I just figured I'd point that out.)
But why can't the sponsor, who does the heavy lifting for you? It's not like Westminster has to take a stand here – Pedigree is taking the stand for them and doing a pretty memorable job of it. But I guess you can ditch your downer partner when you can find a kinder, gentler sponsor, like Purina, which will make sure viewers don't get a BIG BIG SAD when they have to think about all the dogs in shelters in the USA, many of which are there due to the irresponsible breeding practices of people who watch shows like Westminster on TV and think: I want to be a breeder, too!