Media: Strategy Analysis - Cyberpets campaign for real animals

Brand: RSPCA
Client: David Bowles, head of communications, RSPCA
Brief: Re-engage elusive and dismissive child and teenage audiences with
the RSPCA and animal welfare issues
Target audience: Children and teenagers
Budget: Undisclosed

Communication strategy: Rocket
Digital creative & production: Lateral
Media buying: Rocket/PHDiQ


One of the most significant issues facing the RSPCA is that the profile of its supporter base is ageing at a faster rate than ever before in its history. In order to ensure the RSPCA is still relevant to future generations, it needed to re-engage young audiences with its work and animal welfare issues.

Traditionally, domestic pet ownership used to teach children about the importance of animal welfare and provided a natural introduction and entry point to the work of the RSPCA. However, pet ownership has been in continual decline over the past 20 years and now fewer than half of all British homes own a domestic pet.

The decline in pet ownership is partly due to the popularity of video games and the internet among young people. The truth is children today would rather get home from school and play video games or chat with their friends online. In order to overcome this issue, it was decided that a change in the RSPCA's strategy was needed.


- Online: To ensure the communications strategy was relevant to a young, disengaged audience, it had to be entertaining and, above all, fun.

The first part of the campaign was designed to educate the target audience about responsible pet ownership. This was achieved with a virtual Cyberpet game, which was hosted on the RSPCA website.

Users were able to customise features of their Cyberpet and challenged to grow it to adulthood over a 30-day period. This involved daily visits to the website to provide shelter for the Cyberpet and ensure they were fed and exercised.

In order to drive adoption, users were required to register and word of mouth was generated through e-mail lists and online communities. Text messages and e-mails were also sent to young members on the RSPCA supporter database.

The next stage of the campaign was designed to educate the audience about animal welfare issues beyond simple pet ownership. One of the most important issues to the RSPCA is chicken farming, and the benefits of RSPCA Freedom Food.

To make this issue relevant to a young audience, a website was created that dovetailed with the interest and excitement surrounding the World Cup. This was achieved through the creation of a dedicated website - the World Cluck Soccer Skills game. The game challenged users to train a "healthy-welfare" chicken and test its football skills. The purpose of the game was to change the perception that healthy chickens are expensive and raise awareness of the health benefits.


The Cyberpet encouraged more than 100,000 users (mainly girls aged between 7 and 14) to rear a Cyberpet to adulthood. This equated to at least 30 separate daily visits to the RSPCA website for each user or more than three million visits in total. More than 70 per cent of these users have opted to receive further information about RSPCA campaign issues.

More than 4.2 million users have accessed the World Cluck Soccer Skills site, while the game has been played more than 6.3 million times.

In addition, more than 20,000 users sent the game on to a friend to play and more than 460,000 users have read the Full Facts section of the World Cluck site. This has helped drive more than 16,000 users to find out more information about Freedom Food and chicken farming on the RSPCA website.

THE VERDICT - Andy Griffin partner, Naked Inside

The charity sector is as crowded and competitive as any. Few charities target children, though. Apart from the good old RSPCA, that is, whose membership is ageing.

The grown-ups at Rocket know enough about children these days to recognise that gaming and the internet have replaced more traditional entertainment, and have decided to cunningly use those newer activities to make them more animal-aware.

A logical approach. But does it miss a trick or two - just like poor old Rover? In choosing a solely digital route, executed via virtual pets and chicken football computer games, the real power of persuasion may have been overlooked.

There is no substitute, I suspect, for first-hand experience of animals. The RSPCA marketing budget may be small, but visits to schools and school visits to urban farms and animal welfare centres, for example, should be affordable.

Endearing as the Cyberpet (haven't we been here before? Did all those Tamagotchi "pets" die off, failed by a previous generation of children in their duty of care?) and the World Cluck are to children, they are likely to appeal to pre-teens and boys respectively and thereby miss out other large, important groups, especially more opinionated older teenagers.

And what of that important group of influencers? Isn't there a need to remind parents and teachers of the importance of animal welfare (and to pick up new adult members in so doing)? It is also those adults who will be the main buyers of chicken. It is unlikely children will pester parents to choose the Freedom Food chicken the World Cluck promotes; a case of seeding in the wrong place and too early, perhaps.

The results are impressive, with high levels of exposure and participation. But how much of the information was taken on board by children? Might the messages be embedded into the games more naturally and simply (compared with downloadable PDFs), and the evaluation be based on change in attitude to animals rather than game-playing behaviour?

So, children may have played the games but have they re-engaged with the RSPCA and animal issues? Only time and membership profiles will tell.

SCORE: 2 out of 5.