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Group Uses Ads to Boost Public Support, Donations

The Animal Rescue Foundation, a charity group in Walnut Creek, CA, founded by St. Louis Cardinal’s manager Tony LaRussa, completed production on its first DRTV spots. The commercials will air as public service announcements on Discovery Communications Corp.’s Animal Planet channel.

The foundation is in the process of raising money to expand its efforts to save “abandoned” animals from euthanasia. It was founded in 1990 by LaRussa, who said he got the idea to rescue animals after a stray cat wandered onto the field during a game between the Oakland A’s, which he then managed, and the New York Yankees. That cat was eventually adopted by a foster home, but LaRussa learned that thousands of animals were killed every year because they could not find owners.

In addition to adopting animals and placing them with foster families, the group funds the Friendship Foundation, which provides pet-assisted therapy visits to seniors, children and disabled adults. It spays and neuters animals for low-income families and senior citizens and also has an Emergency Medical Fund to care for injured and sick animals.

The foundation decided to launch a TV campaign to expand its reach throughout the country and elicit wider public support. It purchased a six-acre plot in Walnut Creek to house animals and intends to build a private adoption and education facility. It adopted about 1,000 animals last year, as it received corporate sponsorship from PacBell, Safeway stores, PeopleSoft, The Men’s Wearhouse, Ralston-Purina and Anheuser-Busch.

The ARF spent about $35,000 to shoot a 30-second and 60-second spot, which were produced by Creative Entertainment Group, a producer of DRTV commercials and infomercials in Los Angeles. Its infomercial for Eastman Kodak Corp. was honored with the Best Corporate Infomercial Award at the Electronic Retailing Association’s annual meeting last year. A CEG executive said the foundation chose a DRTV format to make its spot airings as accountable as possible.

“We were contacted by ARF because they were looking for a DR agency,” said Linda S. York, managing director of CEG. “They had seen our Kodak show and wanted to find someone to do a PSA for them.”

Although DRTV commercials are intended to trigger an immediate call-in response from viewers at a low cost per lead rate, the foundation also wanted to boost its image.

“Tony La Russa understands how to build ARF into a brand,” York said, “but he also wanted to also elicit a direct response. We discussed with him how DRTV can do three things: build a brand, educate people and have a call to action.”

Because the foundation is a non-profit group, CEG agreed to produce the spots almost at cost. The foundation succeeded in luring appearances from celebrities who donated their time to shoot the commercials. Home run king Mark McGwire, country music star Clint Black, TV host Lisa Marie Hartman and singers Bruce Hornsby and Eddie Money all agreed to appear in the commercials.

“Celebrities are important to give a national profile to the foundation,” said Daniel Loewenthal, creative director of CEG. “We had to hold our costs down and we got them on board as volunteers.”

The foundation approached Animal Planet about airing the PSAs because of the nature of its programming for animal enthusiasts. CEG is assisting the foundation in finding other media outlets for the commercials.

“Part of our strategy is to ‘narrowcast’ on really niche markets,” York said. “We went to come up with programming for specific audiences that have a built-in viewership, which is why Animal Planet is a good match for ARF. One of the ways you get more bang for your buck is to narrowcast, rather than shotgunning shows in the hope that someone is surfing channels and finds you.”

The foundation handles its own telemarketing, but is in the process of hiring a teleservices firm to handle increased call volume as the spots air more frequently.

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