Bad dog! Ads get racy for rescue group

Cheap laughs? Risqué humor?

Why not? says Great Plains SPCA. The animal welfare nonprofit was looking for yuks when it launched a bawdy marketing blitz to rebrand itself this fall after losing its former name, Heartland, in a legal dispute.

The campaign is a far cry from the typical depressing pet rescue ads, agency officials say.

(At this juncture, any young children reading this are advised to skip to the next article or jump to the comics to see what Marmaduke is up to today.)

Cue the dim lights and tawdry music. The latest

TV commercial

— a plea to spay and neuter pets — zeroes in on a small dog, a Japanese Chin, caught

in flagrante delicto

with a throw pillow.

The scene plays out for several seconds that in all honesty seem much longer. Then, cut to the message: “Do less laundry — spay and neuter your pets.”

“A lot of people are caught off guard,” admits Rachel Hodgson, a Great Plains spokeswoman. “It’s not the typical campaign. We wanted to have fun with this.”

The early response?

“Bow-chick-a-bow-wow!” posted one Great Plains Facebook follower.

The ad has elicited many laughs. Of course, it’s also offended some sensibilities.

“It’s wrong,” said one Facebook follower.

“How would you explain it to children?” asked another.

Actually, a conversation with children about saving lives through spay/neutering should be a valuable lesson, said Great Plains CEO Courtney Thomas.

Given that about 40 percent of households own dogs, the agency figured racy animal behavior was hardly new territory for many.

“We feel like it’s part of life for a lot of pet owners,” Hodgson said. “It’s not a brand new act.”

Also, most of the ads are running at night, Thomas said.

A print campaign features dogs and cats named “Player” and “Skank” as playful reminders of the swinging animal world.

The next round of advertising, guerrilla marketing, might be the most attention grabbing of all. Look closely at the next stray-dog flier you see in your neighborhood. Turns out, Fido isn’t missing at all. The sign really says “MISSING: Testicles” and goes on to cite several spay/neuter benefits.

Volunteers were planning to hand out the ads at First Friday and elsewhere this month.

Ultimately, the education and awareness message to spay and neuter is worth any criticism, Hodgson said.

“It helps pets live longer, happier, healthy lives. There are so many benefits to it,” she said. “We want to just get conversations starting in Kansas City and have people see this because it’s the most effective way to help with pet overpopulation.”

Thomas declined to discuss the campaign cost but said a significant portion was discounted. The group has been criticized for aggressive and spendy advertising before, but Thomas said the advertising is crucial to raise awareness and money to support the agency’s mission.

It’s a welcome shift for some who were depressed and sometimes disturbed by the long-running ASPCA animal cruelty ads featuring Sarah McLachlan’s song, “Angel.” The two agencies are not affiliated, but people regularly call Great Plains begging them to stop airing the spot.

The Great Plains campaign was created by Meers Advertising with help from Ron Beg Studios.

Dave Thornhill, the campaign’s creative director with Meers, said they didn’t conduct focus groups, unless you count his 67-year-old mother, who was hardly aghast at the Japanese Chin’s roll in the sheets with the decorative pillow.

“She about lost her cookies she was laughing so hard,” Thornhill said. “You know it’s good when people have any type of reaction.”