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135-Year-Old American Kennel Club Goes Digital

March 23, 2020 Carolyn Harding

135-year-old dog registry The American Kennel Club (AKC) recently launched its first-ever national digital brand campaign. Using the tagline, “If It Barks, It's AKC,” the campaign brings the legacy organization into the world of digital marketing and positions AKC as an expert on all things canine.

AKC Uses Multichannel Campaign To Showcase Industry Experience

AKC’s “If It Barks, It’s AKC” campaign spotlights the organization’s 135 years of dog expertise and the organization’s desire to be used as a resource for dog owners and lovers raising any breed of dog. Spanning digital media, print, social media, audio, streaming platforms and over-the-top (OTT) channels like Hulu, AKC’s campaign includes a series of funny, light-hearted videos to appeal to potential new dog owners.

One of the campaign’s featured videos spotlights a family failing to get a goat to fetch, with the voiceover saying, “If it baas, we can't help you, but if it barks, it's AKC.” Another video shows a variety of animals as the voiceover repeats, “This is not a dog.” Finally, a beagle comes across the screen as the voiceover shares facts about the popular breed and AKC’s expert knowledge on all dogs, but not the other animals. “If it quacks, moos, or meows, we can't help you. But if it barks, it's AKC.”

Changing A Long-Standing Perception Through A Modern-Day Approach

Shutterstock_1036578463  NEW YORK CITY - February 14 2018: The 142nd Westminster Kennel Club Show concluded with selection of Best in Show. Winner, Bichon Frise, Flynn with handler Bill McFadden and judge, Betty-Anne Stenmark

The overarching goal of AKC’s recent campaign is to end the stereotype that the long-standing dog registry is meant only for show dogs and demonstrate the inclusivity of the organization. “Over the years, there have been a lot of misperceptions about who the AKC is as an organization,” said Kirsten Bahlke, Vice President of Consumer Demand for AKC.

By featuring a variety of dog owners and a heavy focus on digital channels, AKC is hoping to reach a wider (and younger) audience on popular media platforms where humorous and heart-warming animal videos are among the most popular content. “When thinking about how to connect with a broader audience of dog owners, we did the research to identify where they tend to need the most help,” said Bahlke.

According to Amy Small, Senior Vice President of Creative and Brand for Media Cause (the agency that worked on AKC’s recent campaign), AKC is taking the necessary steps to become more relevant and relatable to a larger group of dog owners, from all generations and demographics. “Our hope is that dog lovers see the campaign, and walk away thinking ‘Huh, I understand the AKC a little bit better now, and they understand me, too. I’m a dog person. They’re dog people. We’re all in this together,’” Small shared.

More And More Legacy Brands Are Going Digital To Attract A Younger Audience

Shutterstock_290494508  Young smiling girl owner holding phone with yorkshire terrier dog sitting in park

AKC is not the first long-standing organization to go digital in an effort to reach a younger audience, even in the dog world. Earlier this year, the famous all-breed conformation show, The Westminster Kennel Club, joined TikTok — the viral video-sharing platform downloaded 738 million times in 2019. The brand's first video on the platform was viewed more than 20,000 times in its first 24 hours.

“Being that TikTok's primary audience is Gen Z, it made sense for us to be on there to reach those audiences and speak to them in a real and authentic way,” said Sarah Pine, Director of Account Services for Glow (the agency behind the Westminster Kennel Club’s recent social media efforts).

Over the past several years, the 143-year-old brand has also begun using Twitter to announce the results of its annual dog show, sharing additional content on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

“Every year, we're looking into how we can expand the social presence while keeping the mission of the Westminster Kennel Club in mind, which is celebrating companionship of dogs,” said Pine. “A big part of that is, ‘how do we reach new and younger audiences,’ both bringing to them information about responsible pet ownership, but also awareness to the brand and show.”

With the deployment of multichannel digital campaigns, AKC and many other heritage brands are redefining who they are and appealing to wider audiences, overcoming hurdles faced by stale perceptions of many long-standing organizations.

In the evolving world of digital marketing, many legacy brands have not yet perfected their digital strategy. AKC, however, understood they cannot rely on their organization’s history and accomplishments in order to grow, but instead, they must leverage new, innovative ways to keep up with changing content and media consumption trends. 

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About the Author

Carolyn Harding

Carolyn Harding is an Associate Manager of Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. DMS helps its clients accelerate growth by deploying diversified and data-driven customer acquisition solutions that deliver scalable, sustainable and measurable marketing results. DMS performance marketing solutions connect the right consumers with the right offers at the right time to achieve the marketing objectives of our clients. DMS is continually innovating to provide new and emerging media and technology solutions that minimize waste and maximize results across the most competitive industries. Since its inception, DMS has demonstrated incredible year-over-year growth which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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