Abused dog from the commercial
Photo by ASPCA
Being a person who has always loved animals, I religiously watch Animal Planet on the TV. Each show has a unique concept and structure that makes it interesting and almost like you are there with the behavioralists and biologists. If I’m not watching a specific show on the station, I have it on in the background for sound while I do my homework. I will sometimes be caught up in my homework and totally ignore everything else around me. That is until I hear Sarah McLachlan’s song, Angel. There is a split second in time where you can either change the channel or watch it and decide to adopt every little animal that appears. It is utter torture watching this commercial because if you change the channel you feel guilty that you are ignoring it and if you watch it then you end up crying on the inside. Most of the time once I see an animal, I’m stuck with my head saying, “DON’T WATCH” while my heart says, “GO TO THE SHELTER AND ADOPT EVERY LITTLE CREATURE”. Unfortunately, my bank account agrees with my heart and not my head.
While trying to decide what propaganda I see on a regular basis, this commercial stuck out to me because every other commercial break in my shows has this ad and every time, I feel horrible. It occurred to me, during my guilt, that this was a form of propaganda. Propaganda is defined as ideas and information that is spread for a purpose, whether it is beneficial or hindering to a cause. When people hear the word propaganda their mind first goes to the world wars and dictatorship societies. Propaganda has a negative connotation associated with it, but when we look at it as more of a marketing technique it doesn’t seem as negative. It’s just based on the pictures and words we associate with each type.
To make sure that I was on the right track about the ASPCA, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, commercial being a form of propaganda, I broke each piece of the commercial down to understand what I was seeing and feeling. The commercial was made and paid for by the ASPCA. The motivation of this organization is to put forth that “every day in America thousands of animals suffer from cruelty and neglect”. The idea is to push that by donating “$19.00 a month, just 63¢ a day” then a bunch of animals can be saved. This money does not just go straight to the animals, there are other things that need to be paid for; employees, rent for land on which the buildings are located, and much more before going to food and other supplies for animals. This money may not even go to a local SPCA. It could be sent across the country based on intake of animals and number of staff members. Even more important is the fact that most communities have local animal shelters, but these shelters can’t afford to pay for fancy commercials and end up not receiving as many funds because people know and recognize the ASPCA logo. This is not mentioned in the commercial though, just that for “pennies a day” everyday people can save the life of an animal. The company also will show different scenarios based on whatever season it is. The original content is kept but, in the winter, they use pictures of animals in freezing conditions, while in the summer they use animals with no water in extremely hot conditions. I then moved on to look at who the marketing group was aiming for.
The target audience is everyday people can afford to pay for an animal they may never see, but as a thank you, a person receives a free t-shirt and a picture of an animal that the shelter has helped. The picture concept is always interesting to me because I have worked in both a local shelter and an ASPCA recognized shelter and I helped send out the gift items and it’s the same picture over and over. There aren’t a variety of photos, they just recopy a more recent animal and send that. Moving back to the target audience concept, it is also aimed towards two major groups of people. The first being people who are watching Animal Planet and the second being those switching through channels. People watching Animal Planet have an interest in animals and these emotional commercials grab their attention. Those switching through channels would most likely catch this commercial because it comes on so often and since this commercial has been around for so long, people immediately recognize the commercial just by the sound and it may be enough to stop them. The commercial uses a few techniques to assist with getting their idea across including testimonial, plain folks, fear, and unwarranted extrapolation. The use of Sarah McLachlan as a celebrity personality to talk about the importance of donating and how to donate falls under testimonial. McLachlan has a dog that she is casually petting on her lap and sits comfortably in a small living area talking about how this donation can change everything which gives the feeling that she is an everyday person instead of a famous musician. This is an example of acting like a plain individual to appeal to people. Overall, the commercial gives a sense of fear and foreboding even with McLachlan’s soft voice. The fear that this will continue unless you donate. The final technique that the advertisement uses is unwarranted extrapolation stating that thousands of animals will die unless a donation is made and saying “we” at the end of the commercials thus causing people to feel included and that they can help. This advertisement is propaganda because they have a certain idea and mentality that they are pushing on to other people to follow. They are propitiating that the ASPCA is the only shelter that everyday people can donate to for convenience purposes, which is not intentional but does occur. There are thousands of other shelters out there, but they don’t have the funds for a commercial that is aired continuously. The video I used to gather everything is right below.