How do you engage consumers on a topic few people enjoy pondering—fleas and ticks—in a space dominated by an established competitor?

When Merck Animal Health and Concentric Health Experience set out to communicate the benefits of flea-and-tick protection drug Bravecto, they hoped to avoid the predictable approach: Focusing on a doting pet parent demonstrating their love through their purchases. So exit the cliché of beautifully groomed dog and attractive owner running along a beach or having a serious-looking conversation with a vet, and enter… humor?

Indeed, a “Bravo, Bravecto” campaign spot envisions a light-hearted head-to-head matchup between two appealingly scruffy dogs representing Bravecto and market leader NexGard, manufactured by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health. To preside over the competition, Merck and Concentric tapped John Michael Higgins, one of the stars of the film Best in Show.

“One of the beauties of working in this category is that people love their pets so much and they have this crazy attachment to them,” says Elizabeth Fox, director, U.S. parasiticides at Merck Animal Health. “But we didn’t want to focus on the idea that just because you love your pet, you need to give them Bravecto.”

The successful idea could not be “shmushy,” Fox added. “We wanted a campaign to demonstrate the efficacy and clear benefits of Bravecto, including its duration” [of 12 weeks, versus four weeks for competitors’ products].

Concentric partner and chief creative officer Michael Sanzen said that the agency’s first presentation included around 20 ideas – and was a far more challenging assignment than it seemed at first blush. “We knew we had to entertain people, but we also had to grab them because it wasn’t necessarily a topic you were looking for,” he recalled.

The trick, Sanzen added, was to hew closely to the focus on duration. “Associating Bravecto with winning and outlasting its competitor was the key to getting all the different pieces in play – and John Michael Higgins bringing it to life was the very final piece.”

Challenges abounded during production as well. COVID-related protocols required the production team to limit the number of people on set and test all participants on a regular basis. Such concerns prompted the decision to film in Orlando instead of Los Angeles, owing to Florida’s more relaxed quarantine rules at the time.

This proved to be a golden opportunity for one of the ad’s canine stars, Emma. “She looks like a mutt, which is a good thing,” Fox said. “She has that universal appeal. For me, it was her magical hazel eyes. When she looks into the camera, your heart melts a little.”

Consumers appear to share Fox’s positive feelings about Emma, John Michael Higgins and the rest of the presentation. The “Bravo, Bravecto” spot, which launched on YouTube at the end of March 2021, has been viewed more than 4.89 million times to date. Merck is similarly encouraged by brand awareness and market-share data, which show Bravecto registering substantial gains.