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How I Used Paid Social to Save My Dog’s Life

Ernie, my one-and-a-half-year-old Boston terrier ran away the day we were moving into our new home this summer. Little did my wife and I know that the following 23 days would be some of the most stressful we have ever encountered.

On the day we moved out, we had Ernie staying at my in-laws under the supervision of family, three hours away from our old house, and two hours from our new residence. When doing his normal morning routine outside, something must have spooked Ernie, which led to him running into the woods.

We immediately rushed back to start the foot search. A day passed, and the tough task of stapling “lost” flyers on every light pole in town was upon us. Every staple was a punch in the heart. That evening, feeling helpless, I decided to apply my career skillsets towards bringing our sweet boy home. We turned to Facebook and we did more than just ask friends – we created an ad campaign.

Crafting a Campaign to Find Ernie

Any good digital marketer knows to start by defining their desired audience, based on the goals of the campaign. Our primary goal was to bring Ernie home. The goal of this ad campaign was to create awareness with the measurable goal of a sighting of Ernie.

Obviously, we wanted to reach people in the vicinity of where he was last seen. Geo-targeting helped us achieve this by allowing us to define a target radius of 10 miles from where he was last spotted.

Not everyone in that area is going to see a missing dog ad and drop what they are doing to help, so we further refined our targeting. Pet lovers, specifically cat and dog lovers, seemed like a no-brainer as a good group to target with our ads.

Knowing Ernie’s past behavior, the possibility of him approaching a stranger was unlikely. For this reason, we also added a targeting layer of people interested in outdoor activities, as they are most likely to be outside, and may have potentially seen him roaming around in the distance.

We got our targeting set up, then moved on to creating an ad that would give us the best chance at meeting our goal. The ad copy for this campaign clearly identified our objective and struck a familiar chord to the end user based on our use of a geographic reference. The image drew attention, yet still clearly showed what Ernie looked like and how handsome he is, specifically his distinctive underbite.

In less than 24 hours, we got a call as a direct result of our Facebook ad campaign. “Monica” informed us that she had seen the Facebook ad and wanted to help however possible due to her background with pet rescues.

She lived within 10 miles of my in-laws and had a passion for helping pets.  The response gave us confidence that audience targeting was reaching the right users, even though Monica hadn’t actually seen Ernie.

This initial paid targeting helped to fuel the entire campaign organically, as we observed organic reach and page likes increasing in volume at a much faster rate than prior to the paid campaign.

More than two weeks had passed though, and still no sightings of Ernie.

On day 20, we finally received a call from a lady named Barbara. She told us that she may have seen a Boston terrier running around her neighborhood, 6 miles from where Ernie ran away and matching his description.

Barbara had seen the Facebook ad, as she was within the 10 mile radius and had an interest in both pets and the outdoors (after talking with Barbara we learned that she in fact fit our targeting mold).

Barbara had also seen an ad we posted on a local classifieds internet page dedicated to school teachers in that area. We were skeptical of a sighting in a neighborhood that far away from Ernie’s last sighting, but decided to meet her at her house to walk around the neighborhood.

We were amazed to find out that others in the neighborhood had also seen a Boston terrier, with one neighbor saying the dog he had seen looked identical to our picture. We set up wild game cameras, and the next day, we had a picture of Ernie! He was alive.

On day 23, we captured Ernie, who had survived climbing over a mountain that is home to many bears, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and foxes, six miles away from my in-laws’ home.

Ernie is a thoroughbred badass. We believe he was trying to find us, and got lost in the woods. This is the story we are going with, versus him trying to run away from my in-laws.

Without a doubt, our ability to target users digitally is what ultimately brought Ernie back home to our family. The main conversion of the campaign was met with the sighting. Additionally, a large volume of secondary/micro conversions were observed, translating to extremely generous members of the community willing to help us out.

Our focus on audiences based on levels of intent to “convert” is common practice at Merkle, but I cannot stress how important this was in my scenario for finding our little man. We saw the end goal, and adjusted our targeting accordingly.

It is too hard to identify which advertising platform is the sole winner that drove the conversion. I believe both sources, Facebook and the classifieds, contributed to the successful return of Ernie. If Ernie went missing 1,000 times we might be able to draw statistical significance in attributing platform value. However, Ernie will always be on a leash when outdoors from now on, so that question will (hopefully) go unanswered.

Digital marketing executed well is extremely powerful. It saved my dogs life, and reunited our family as we moved into our new home. ROI on this campaign was priceless.