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HomePet Industry NewsPet Insurance NewsThe New Zealand Campaign for Animal Safety That Went Global, with TBWA

The New Zealand Campaign for Animal Safety That Went Global, with TBWA


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Southern Cross Pet Insurance (SCPI) and the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) have been rallying brands to adopt the ‘Paws Off!’ warning symbol to alert pet owners to ingredients in human food and drink that are toxic to pets.

The initiative is part of a long-term campaign to have owners think about every aspect of their pets’ lives – like walking safely after dark, slowing down in cars when travelling near pet-friendly parks and walkways, stopping owners leaving pets in hot cars, and now food safety with ‘Paws Off!’.

To learn more about the campaign, LBB’s Tom Loudon spoke to TBWA\New Zealand CCO Shane Bradnick, and head of product and marketing at SCPI Bridgette Muir, chatting everything from inception to execution.

LBB> Congratulations on a great initiative and campaign! Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of this idea and how the finished logo/campaign lines up with your initial vision? 

Shane> A year and a half ago, we started working with SCPI on a new brand platform called ‘Live your best pet life’. It’s all about finding creative solutions to issues that stop pets from living their best lives. So,after helping pets look good and walk safer at night in our VIS fashion collection, we dug into SCPI’s claims data, and found a high percentage of pet illnesses could be linked to their diet. As such,  we made that our next target.

The idea for a ‘Paws Off!’ symbol happened when our London-based TBWA From Nowhere creative leaders spotted a dog sharing a beer with its owner. It got them thinking about what else people share with pets that they shouldn’t be, and how warning symbols such as the ‘don’t-drink-alcohol-when-pregnant’ exist for humans… but not for other living things we love, like dogs and cats.

The ambition for this initiative was huge from the start. We knew we didn’t want to create pet-friendly versions of products that are harmful to pets. It was always meant to be a warning symbol for pets on human foods and drinks. 

Bridgette> Our mission at SCPI  is to help our pets live healthier lives for longer. But, while it’s our privilege to come to the rescue with insurance cover when things go wrong, we’d much rather pets and their owners steer clear of avoidable problems in the first place. On the heels of ‘Vis’ – our campaign to get owners to be safe walking their dogs in the dark, ‘Paws Off!’ will inspire owners and others with a vested interest to take care when treating dogs and cats. 

We are absolutely delighted with the campaign and the symbol design – the challenge was to have a non-specific species design, and the team has nailed that.

LBB> We’ve heard that this project was insight-led. Can you tell us a little bit about those original insights and why this campaign is the best way to address them?

Bridgette> It’s pretty simple – 40,000 years of coevolution means our pets have a hold on our hearts and minds, and we’ll do anything to keep them happy. Unfortunately, this also means many pet owners are making the wrong decisions and sharing food they shouldn’t. Our research showed one in three New Zealand pets is in danger of getting sick, or worse, because their owners are in the dark about which everyday food and drink ingredients can be harmful – even fatal – for their furry family members. 

There’s also a minefield of misinformation, so we needed to find a simple way to make it easy for humans to recognise what food and drink they shouldn’t share – in much the same way as we’ve all come to recognise products that are not tested on animals. The ‘Paws Off!’ symbol has so much more behind it though, with expert information provided by our partners at the NZ Veterinary Association across multiple platforms (website, social, and even hard copy flyers for owners).

LBB> Can you tell us what kind of a response you’ve had from the brands you’ve targeted?

Shane> Getting New Zealand’s biggest meal kit provider, My Food Bag, on board was a huge moment for the ‘Paws Off!’ initiative. Soon, the warning symbol will be in homes all over New Zealand, reminding pet owners of what ingredients aren’t safe to share, and to watch out when things like chopped onions fall on the ground. 

Conversations with other brands and marketers are going in the diary daily too. We’re well aware it’s ambitious for us to ask big, global food manufacturers to change their packaging immediately, so we’re really focusing on working with brands locally, in order to demonstrate to global brands how supporting ‘Paws Off!’ could work for them.

It could be as simple as posting support for ‘Paws Off!’ on social media, adding it to things that are easy to update – such as stickers and signs – or even putting the symbol on advertising for products that contain ingredients that pets can’t have. 

LBB> In terms of the logo’s design, how did that all come together so that virtually any brand could use it as part of their packaging?

Shane> We have amazing partners pitching their expertise across this project. Seachange Studio, based here in Auckland, really helped us take the project to new heights. To put it bluntly, it wasn’t the easiest brief to create a half-dog, half-cat symbol that encapsulated the playfulness of pets while also warning people of danger. But, from day one, Seachange  understood the project and ran with it. 

On top of that, the warning symbol comes with a full set of easy-to-apply assets and guidelines, which is free for any brand to use and apply to products that contain unsafe ingredients for pets.

LBB> This is an initiative in which we might see global brands getting involved. How do you aim to get global recognition?

Shane> So far, we have directly reached out, as well as used social tags and international PR to help raise awareness of this work. It is a free-to-use and download symbol endorsed by vets, and we hope as many businesses as possible take up the chance to raise awareness about unsafe foods for pets.

Bridgette> It’s a gift to the world from SCPI, a trusted New Zealand brand. We want local and global brands to take ‘Paws Off!’ on board and help save pet lives everywhere.

Helping pets live their best lives means helping their owners/parents understand the best ways to keep them safe. With ‘Paws Off!’, we’re working with the NZVA to ensure the information we’re providing is accurate and well-founded. We’re also asking them to advocate for ‘Paws Off!’ through their practices. 

We’ve also recruited a home-grown global superstar, Mark Vette, an animal behaviourist, to help us spread the word. We’re reaching out to CMOs and business decision-makers to incorporate ‘Paws Off!’, and New Zealanders, as well as others are being educated through social, digital, and more.

LBB> And what about the response more widely – do you get the sense that pet owners are enthusiastic about this as an idea? 

Shane> Pet owners have loved this idea. Many were shocked by the types of foods and ingredients that are not safe for their beloved pets, and having an initiative out there that makes it easy to know what not to feed them has been a big hit. We have also had amazing feedback and support from the New Zealand Veterinary Association and its vet network, with the ‘Paws Off!’ initiative helping vets educate and help pet owners know what to avoid feeding their pets.

Bridgette> It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we’re working hard to get brands over the line. We’re very excited to have My Food Bag on board, New Zealand’s leading meal kit provider, with more to be revealed in that space very soon. We’re very aware packaging changes take time, and that this particular symbol won’t always need to be applied to products. Yes, if a product contains xylitol, and no, if it doesn’t. Yes, if it contains onion, garlic, leek, or macadamia nuts, and no if it contains peanuts. In fact, peanut butter can be a great way to get a reluctant pup to take their worming tablet!

LBB> Is there anything you personally learned about pet safety – specifically what they can and can’t eat – while working on ‘Paws Off!’?

Shane> Having a dog myself, I know how hard it is to say no to our fur babies when they give you ‘those eyes’, and I have often found myself googling if the food I was eating was safe; avocado and grapes, who knew those were no good? The thing that really surprised me was the number of people who thought they knew what food to avoid, but our research found more than 33% didn’t even know that things like chocolate or even alcohol were a bad idea!

Getting the symbol’s design just right was important, and finding the perfect balance between being friendly and being a clear warning symbol took time and craft. The team from Seachange Studio did an amazing job. I’d say the ongoing challenge is getting brands to support and adopt the symbol, but we are making good progress, and there are exciting opportunities coming up. 

LBB> And finally, would you do anything differently if you had your time again?

Shane> I would have loved to launch it sooner – the more pet owners that know about the foods and ingredients that could be harmful, the better – allowing more pets and pet owners to ‘Live their Pet Life’.

Bridgette> The response from pet owners has been super positive, so we’ll build on that and encourage them to encourage brand owners to do the right thing!

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