Thursday, September 19, 2013

Free Marketing/PR Idea #1: Sponsor a Mutt-run Iditarod Team

Pound puppies. I love them. I have two of them (had two of them).


Dutch we had to put down last September at 13 years of age when it was discovered he had significant spinal deterioration and an infection that had immobilized him requiring a surgery that he would likely not recover fully from.

Wolfe is still with us and he's five.
He'll be my son's first best friend.

There have been several
celebrities over the years that have done their part to make pets a priority and champion spaying and neutering your animals or rescuing dogs from shelters. But with between 6 - 8 million dogs and cats entering shelters EACH YEAR there is certainly more work that needs to be done to educate people about the value of an animal's life and what great pets sheltered animals make.

And While Sarah McLaughlan's tear-jerking pleas to "join the SPCA with a monthly gift of $18 a month" certainly seem effective, I just wonder if someone could be doing more to benefit shelters nationwide while getting some really awesome exposure for their brand which maybe already aligns itself with preventing animal cruelty or pet adoptions.

Sarah McLachlan
Bob Barker
So I propose Free Marketing/PR Idea #1: Sponsor a Mutt-run Iditarod Team.

"Why the Iditarod?" you ask...well...

Because the Iditarod is the world's foremost sled race showcasing the best-of-the-best sled dogs.

From the official Iditarod Web site:

"From Anchorage, in south central Alaska, to Nome on the western Bering Sea coast, each team of 12 to 16 dogs and their musher cover over *1,049 miles in 10 to 17 days. 

It has been called the “Last Great Race on Earth®” and it has won worldwide acclaim and interest. German, Spanish, British, Japanese and American film crews have covered the event. Journalists from outdoor magazines, adventure magazines, newspapers and wire services flock to Anchorage and Nome to record the excitement. It’s not just a dog sled race, it’s a race in which unique men and woman compete. Mushers enter from all walks of life. Fishermen, lawyers, doctors, miners, artists, natives, Canadians, Swiss, French and others; men and women each with their own story, each with their own reasons for going the distance. It’s a race organized and run primarily by volunteers, thousands of volunteers, men and women, students and village residents. They man headquarters at Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome and Wasilla. They fly volunteers, veterinarians, dog food and supplies. They act as checkers, coordinators, and family supporters of each musher."

As the Web site says - it's a unique challenge that showcases (extra) ordinary people from all walks of life and has an international journalistic appeal which would be great exposure for any brand.

People have a misconception that shelter dogs are somehow damaged, not smart, untrainable, used up, etc. And it's simply not true. You can train a shelter dog the same basic obedience and, so much more, as you can a purebred dog. My brother, in fact, trained his rescued Weimaraner-Lab mix to be a gun dog. Read his story here.

So here's my idea: you get a couple of well-known dog trainers paired up with a couple of semi-pro mushers who've run an Iditarod or two and you convince them to each take on a team of totally untrained mixed breeds from various shelters and groom them to be mushers over the next year and then run them in the Iditarod. Get Sarah Palin involved, get Joe Runyan onboard, and Sebastaian Schnuelle too. Pay for the training with money donated by food partner sponsors: Nutrish and Milkbone. Equipment and harnessing by Adanac, Ultra Paws or Alpine.

I can just see it now - all eyes will be on the shelter dog sled teams - a real underdog story - they'd be like the Bad News Bears of mushing.

It would draw HUGE international media attention, and whether or not any of the rag-tag teams won, getting a camera crew to document their journey from the shelter to the sled trail, would show the world how capable shelter dogs are of any task you put them to. I see a movie, a children's book deal, celebrity pet meet-n-greets, and a mad dash to shelters everywhere to adopt.

Create a website to promote the teams and to allow people to follow the pups' progress via video, twitter and facebook posts. Set up a shopping cart to sell merchandise like T-shirts, hats, dog scarfs and blankets from your favorite underdog team. Take donations. Let proceeds benefit shelters in the cities that the sled dogs come from as well as the SPCA and other national organizations.

This image appeared in a 2007 edition of The Onion newspaper (which features fictional stories) with the headline "Westminster Dog Show Finalists Form Elite Iditarod Team". 
The above image, while fictional, and featuring best-in-class purebred dogs, like what you'd see in the Westminster Dog Show, is not far off from my vision. Substitute the purebreds with mixed mutts from the Shepherd and Staffordshire bloodlines, Terriers and Poodles, Hound-Retriever mixes - heck, I'd love to see an entire team of corgis pull a sled. Those tiny little legs just waddling a mile a minute.

And I know the elements on the sled trail are harsh. I know not all dogs are bred for snowy climates. So maybe a couple of the teams are chosen as ambassadors and run just the first 5 miles.

I don't think anything like this has been attempted and I'd love to see someone give it a-go. If you're reading this, and you agree with my vision, hire me! I'll be happy to run the campaign...or the dogs...or both.

Addendum: Shortly after posting this I thought to myself...hmmm...I wonder if the reason something like this has never been done has anything to do with the fact that organizations like the SPCA don't support the event, maybe they think it's cruelty to animals. So I looked it up. And sure enough, several animal rights activists groups are against the event (not necessarily the sport). But I guess you gotta pick a side of the fence to be on, and I'm on the side of the sled dogs. I know there are casualties every year, and that's tough.  But I don't personally see sled dogging as a cruel life. Looks pretty awesome to me. Every sport has its dopers and its assholes. Look at Lance Armstrong, A. Rod, and Rashard Lewis. We can't let them be the rule, they're the exception. So I'm gonna stand behind my idea and bet that the national exposure brought by such a stunt would encourage more pet adoptions than any other celebrity-driven infomercial donation campaign. I'll let Sarah continue to help collect money for the SPCA $18-a-person-a-month one person at a time.

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