With Christmas fast approaching brands are desperately seeking new ways to make their products and messages stand out.
In the festive season of 1978, the National Canine Defence League (now Dogs Trust) was struggling to do just that: make the British public aware of the dangers of buying dogs as Christmas presents and dissuade them from doing so.
Sadly, 35 years ago, this was seen as acceptable. As a result, the charity was struggling to cope with the high number of stray dogs, especially shortly after Christmas when these puppies bought as presents were being callously discarded in a similar manner to a used toy.
As head of PR, I was asked to come up with a campaign that would capture the imagination of the country, highlighting that a dog should be part of its owner’s life, for life. The campaign needed to be memorable, sustainable and relevant for the whole year, not just Christmas. I was discussing this with my husband one evening and one sentence came to mind that encapsulated everything the charity was trying to say. It was then that "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" was born.
We used the slogan for the first time in our PR campaign during the 1978 Christmas period. It was included in a news-letter to our supporters, along with our first ever car sticker displaying the slogan.
The slogan has become synonymous with the festive season, but it extends beyond this. The fact that it is so renowned means it can be shortened to simply "A dog is for life..." to make it relevant throughout the year, while still maintaining the emotive resonance that comes with its heritage.
Despite it being a registered trademark, the slogan has also been copied endlessly by brands and charities alike – from Harvey Nichols to Asda and even the NHS. In 2003, Ann Summers ran a memorable campaign stating: "A Rampant Rabbit is for life…" Rather than admonishing it, we challenged the company to thank us for the inspiration for its campaign. This resulted in it sending a dedicated newsletter to its entire database covering the work we do and the importance of our slogan. In addition, Marks & Spencer paid the charity to use the slogan for its "Bag for life…" campaign a few years back.
As a charity, it would have been easy to ask for a donation after such infringements. However, the purpose of our campaign has always been to raise awareness, so we see infringements and actions that can oppose our slogan as opportunities for us to reach more people. Tesco’s recent oversight, when it included a picture stating "All I want for Christmas is a puppy" in its festive gift brochure, is a good example of this.
Although not an infringement, this went against everything Dogs Trust has campaigned for over the past 35 years, and so by pointing out its grave error, we received a huge amount of editorial coverage across national news brands, affording our message further exposure and, hopefully, an ongoing relationship.
Clarissa Baldwin is CEO of Dogs Trust