Kleenex's tearjerker viral tells poignant story of lovable disabled dog

Social video expert Unruly reviews the latest viral by Kleenex.

Kleenex: 'Unlikely Best Friends' ad features paralysed dog
A fluffy animal can melt the heart of even the coldest internet user. 8/10

If Jane Austen wrote online advertising coverage in 2015, a sample post might begin like this: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a brand in possession of an adorable animal video, must be in want of shares."

The internet’s obsession with fluffy creatures is now so well-documented that it’s basically a cliche. While yoga-obstructing cats and traffic-obstructing sloths have their own online devotees, brands have been getting in on the game for a while now. For years now, brands like Android and Animals Australia have leveraged our furry preoccupation towards massive sharing hits, while Budweiser has turned the saga of a hapless labrador into one of the biggest marketing franchises of all time.

Good time to be a dog

It’s a particularly good time to be a dog in a heartwarming adverts, with plenty of companies rushing to join the, well, dogpile. Kleenex’s latest is no exception. The sprightly little docu-short follows ‘Chance’, a puppy whose paralysed hind legs haven’t kept him from running, playing and generally looking like him having a brilliant time. In other words, standard dog practice.

Left partially paralysed after being hit by a car, Chance was taken in by a kindly couple who equipped him with a modified doggy wheelchair. With the ad mostly narrated by the couple, the title ‘Unlikely Best Friends’ refers to the fact that the husband, Michael, is also in a wheelchair. Much of Kleenex’s spot is devoted to their sense of companionship; as Michael says, "I know his struggles as well as mine."

Produced by agency VSA Partners, the ad’s uplifting tone and chirpy score have made it an instant hit, particularly on Facebook Video. Shared nearly 1.2m times since its release last week, Kleenex’s spot has quickly become one of 2015’s most successful online campaigns. So what can other brands learn from ‘Unlikely Best Friends’?

The first is recognising a genuine trend. Coincidental or not, dog-centric campaigns have recently become a talking point in online advertising, thanks to the simultaneous success of several puppy-powered productions. Back in May, Argentinian charity Fundacio Argentina De Transplante Hepatico released ‘The Man And The Dog', a stunningly effective and tear-jerking ad that used its central human-pet dynamic to highlight the issue of organ donation.

Quality and quantity

Only last week, Patagonia’s sensitive exploration of a man dealing with his dog’s passing took Vimeo by storm. ‘Denali, produced by writer Ben Knight, picked up the thread left by ‘The Man And The Dog’ and weaved it into a genuinely affecting short film. The fact that a seven-minute-long film can go viral is testament to its quality.

Of course, the reigning king of ‘dogvertising’ (and Kleenex’s most direct inspiration) is Purina’s ‘Puppyhood'. A co-production with viral masters Buzzfeed, the spot has been shared nearly 3m times, rocketing it to the top of the chart of one of the top 20 most shared online ads of all time. Pretty impressive for a tiny puppy and a guy with a goofy moustache.

There are plenty of reasons that puppy adverts are working gangbusters for brands right now. For a start, almost everyone has owned one or knows someone who has. As a result, there’s an essential relatability and shared experience that makes a humorous spot like ‘Puppyhood’ quite so brilliant. Or you could simply say that a fluffy animal can melt the heart of even the coldest internet user.

But where ‘Unlikely Best Friends’ truly succeeds is recognising the trend offered by Purina, Patagonia and other brands, and pursuing their own direction. Instead of offering a cookie-cutter copy of previous viral hits, Kleenex’s focus on the human story sets it apart from the competition. When it comes to following viral trends, ‘variations on a theme’ is the name of the game.


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